THE EDITOR: The controversial debate surrounding the legalisation and decriminalisation of marijuana has once again become a topical issue in the Caribbean and on the international front.
In the last decade, we have seen the decriminalisation of marijuana in Canada, Holland, parts of Europe, Uruguay and 16 states within the USA. Voters in the states of Colorado and Washington approved referendums that support the legalisation of marijuana on a recreational basis.
Amendment 64 in Colorado will amend the state constitution to legalise and regulate the production, possession, and distribution of marijuana for people age 21 and older.
The Washington referendum called for a 25 percent tax rate imposed on the product three times: when the grower sells it to the processor, when the processor sells it to the retailer, and when the retailer sells it to the customer. The measure, Initiative 502, will legalise and regulate the production, possession, and distribution of cannabis for people age 21 and older.
Indeed, 2014 will see the legalisation movement gaining greater political strength in Jamaica and across the Caribbean. Proponents of decriminalisation emphasise that marijuana is a safe drug with beneficial health effects and that decriminalisation results in considerable savings to the criminal justice systems. On the other hand, opponents of decriminalisation highlight the adverse health effects associated with the drug, the potential for dependence, the possible increase in drug use and other negative socioeconomic impact.
In the Caribbean, Jamaica has placed great emphasis and spent millions of dollars in the eradication and interdiction of marijuana throughout the years. Decriminalisation could reduce the country’s spending on policing and enforcement of legislation aimed at criminalising marijuana use. Less government funds would be required to channel into the criminal justice system for arresting, prosecuting, sentencing and incarcerating marijuana users. The resources saved in this way may therefore be used in properly protecting Jamaica’s borders from cocaine traffickers and regulating the production, possession and distribution of marijuana for people age 21 and older.
Further legalisation of marijuana is likely to increase the supply of marijuana and as the law of demand dictates, an increase in the supply will reduce prices. This is probably an effective way to remove the profits out of drug trafficking and force traffickers out of business.
Jamaica is recognised as producing and consuming the highest quantity of marijuana in the Caribbean, and during 1981-2000 was recorded as the number one producer in the world (Caribbean Drug Trends 2000- 2001). The US in its 2014 International Narcotics Strategy Report noted that Jamaica remains the largest Caribbean supplier of marijuana to the US and other Caribbean islands.
The Jamaica Customs Agency seizure records 2009- 2012 indicated that 10,551.0352 kgs of marijuana valued at J$4,611,883,295.98 and 2,967.11 kgs valued at J$1,261,021,750 (2013) were seized by the Contraband Enforcement Team. National Security Minister Peter Bunting in his 2014/2015 sectorial presentation to Parliament indicated that the Transnational and Narcotics Division seized 30, 769 kgs of marijuana in 2013. Now can you imagine if the exportation of marijuana were legal the potential new revenues for the government?
Marijuana has and continues to contribute directly and indirectly to the Jamaican economy and has the potential to contribute greater to the stabilisation of the economy and put average Jamaicans to work. The proceeds from illicit drugs is said to contribute 7.5 percent to Jamaica’s GDP (The Economist, March 8, 2008).