Jamaican doctors against plans to relax marijuana laws

marijuana-drugs-addict-400KINGSTON, Jamaica, Monday Jun 16, 2014, CMC – The Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ) has taken issue with the changes proposed by the government in relation to the possession and smoking of marijuana.

It has warned that the relaxation of the laws will lead to more usage and consequently more mental problems among the population.

Justice Minister Mark Golding announced the changes last Thursday. Among the changes were that users of small quantities of marijuana will no longer have a criminal record, and smoking of the illegal drug would be decriminalised under certain conditions.

According to Golding, Cabinet had approved the decision to amend the Dangerous Drugs Act to make a ticketable offence the possession of two ounces (0.057 kilogrammes ) or less of marijuana. This means it will no longer be an arrestable offence, but one which will attract a fine, and will not give rise to a criminal record.

In response to Golding’s announcement the MAJ has asked the Cabinet to reconsider its position in line with health practice and science.

MAJ president Dr Shane Alexis argued that the decision will cause more mental and physical health problems for Jamaicans, especially the youth.

“As physicians we have been confronted first hand with and seen the devastating effects of the misuse of Ganja. The adverse effects of marijuana, include, but are not limited to: addiction, psychiatric disorders, and disruption of neurological development (especially in adolescents). Negative impact on all aspects of memory is also closely associated with ganja use,” Dr Alexis said.

“We have already seen a significant number of road fatalities in Jamaica. Cannabis withdrawal symptoms can also result in violence. Jamaica already suffers from a high violent crime rate. Many of those who smoke it are at higher risk of developing lung problems including cancer than non-smokers,” he added.

He said any future use of medical marijuana in Jamaica must be supported by scientific evidence that has been rigorously tested locally and internationally and not emotions.

The MAJ statement concluded that the public health sector is already overburdened and under-funded, so the prevention of a public health problem should be the clear focus of the Government.

Meanwhile, another health official has also warned of the consequences of relaxing the laws related to marijuana possession,

Consultant Psychiatrist and Deputy Chairman of the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA), Dr Winston De La Haye, has described the planned move by the government as unfortunate.

“We are making decisions today that Jamaica and Jamaicans will pay dearly for, for many years to come,” he said, warning that the health system was already unable to cope with the number of patients turning up with health issues related to smoking of ganja.

He said with decriminalisation, availability of the drug is likely to increase, and with that the practice of smoking it is likely to increase “especially knowing that the consequences of your use isn’t as great as it was yesterday.”

He reported that within the South East Regional Health Authority, which includes Kingston and St Andrew, “each night, on Ward 21 (University Hospital of the West Indies) we see four to five patients who need admission, primarily with cannabis-induced psychosis, and we can’t admit them because Bellevue (the country’s main specialist mental health hospital) is full, Ward 21 is full.”

He said the NCDA does not support of the policy shift regarding the smoking of marijuana, however the association was in support of decriminalisation “for research purposes, for medicinal purposes, and for no other”.

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