Under the Influence: Jamaicans Driving High

KINGSTON, Jamaica, Wednesday January 18, 2017 – Jamaica’s recent decriminalization of possession of up to two ounces of ganja is contributing to a dangerous practice that officials warn needs urgent attention.

Disturbing findings in the 2016 National Drug Prevalence Survey show that one in six males and 17 females drive under the influence, with most admitting to using ganja since it has been decriminalized.

Executive director of the National Council on Drug Abuse Michael Tucker has raised a red flag about the data, which he said highlights the fact that people behind the wheel as well as non-drivers are in serious danger.

He told the Jamaica Gleaner: “This is very troubling, as potentially these persons are not only a harm to themselves, but to other users of the road. Many times they might be carrying passengers, including children.”

More than 4,500 people across Jamaica participated in the survey conducted in April and July last year which sought to find out the pattern of substance abuse among citizens between 12 and 65, and attitudes towards ganja decriminalization, among other things.

Tucker was particularly concerned that some of the frequent road users, including the drivers of public transport, were among the offenders.

“We don’t want to raise any alarm on a particular group of persons, but if you look at the population, I would assume that a reasonable number of them, (respondents) would have come from that group (bus drivers),” he said.

At the same time, vice-chairman of the National Road Safety Council Dr Lucien Jones lamented that the problems associated with drug use were often misunderstood and underestimated.

Pointing to police data, he noted that distracted driving has been identified as one of the main causes of accidents.

“It goes back to the basic problem we have on the road, which is indiscipline. It’s a mindset, which we are definitely trying to change. So it’s one other issue, apart from just driving recklessly on the road. It’s a major concern for us that people don’t understand the problems, which are associated with drug use,” Jones told The Gleaner.

Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton has suggested that educating citizens about the effects of substance abuse is a key way to tackle the problem.

He noted that while Jamaica is positioning itself to be a major player in the marijuana industry, government would ensure that the drug is not misused or abuse.

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