The Marijuana Commission:
Moving From Filibuster To Legalization
Patrick Martin, MD
Citizen & Student
Marijuana is a plant. Use in the local culture is prevalent. Outright demonization of nature’s creation is illogical and imprudent. The announcement of a “National Commission on Marijuana/Cannabis Sativa” reads as a policy U-turn. Undoubtedly, assertiveness in the electorate impatient with marijuana filibustering has reached a trigger point.
Several procedural inputs should be considered before the commission proceeds. A national consultation should be conducted in a timely manner to disabuse any notion of dilly-dallying. Furthermore, since relevant and thorough analysis is the prime ingredient of sound policy, the commission should be guided by a consultation document (a Green Paper) to enable evidence-informed debate and discussion. A model policy is also helpful.
Evidence is that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis, causes mood and behaviour changes particularly in the brains of persons under age 25 years. Dosage and mode of administration are critical determinants of effect. Inhalation is potentially the riskiest route of entry because it enables large amounts of chemicals to flow rapidly and directly to the brain via the blood stream bypassing the all-important modifying mechanisms of the liver. Consequently, marijuana derivatives are appropriately listed in Schedule 1 of UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Such drugs have “the highest abuse potential, the highest risk of psychological and/or physical dependence” (dea.gov). Notwithstanding, Schedule 1 listing is not a permanent barrier to use. Opium and cocaine are also Schedule 1 drugs that are reformulated and sold under the labels “medicinal opium” and medicinal cocaine”. These preparations are listed as Schedule 3 drugs meaning comparatively “low potential for abuse and low risk of dependency”, and “having medical usage”. It is only fair that medicinal marijuana be accorded equal status.
Drug-related data should be appended to the Green Paper. For example, the 2006 Drug Use Survey (National Drug Council) reported 24% of secondary school and college students having used marijuana at least once with age of initiation being 12-14 years. Alcohol and marijuana are the leading licit and illicit substances of abuse, respectively. Substance abuse disorders consistently rank in the top three diagnoses of the several hundred persons attending mental health clinics on both islands. Resources used during marijuana interdiction operations flow from national security’s recurrent expenditure budget whose 2017 estimate was 52M.
Much good can emerge if the commission makes people-centered recommendations. The cessation of hostilities against the plant should substantially lessen social tensions. Legislative provisions should prescribe areas for cultivation, sale, and spiritual and medicinal use; activities that can be taxed, directly or indirectly. Smoking in a public space should be prohibited since second hand exposure is anti-human rights and a threat to human health. Expenditure saved and revenue earned should be invested in programs that constructively engage young people. Currently, a mere 6M is allocated to Youth, Sports and Culture in 2017; better has to be done. Areas deserving of greater resource attention include technical and vocational training; subsidies to stimulate the production of food, art and craft; and grants to establish a national youth service and apprenticeship scheme, a national sports authority, and foundations to support the creative and performing arts. A steel band, an orchestra and a marching band in each high school can gainfully occupy at least one thousand adolescents.
During the April 5 press conference, a “What happens next?” question raised by a journalist from the Democrat. It was expressed that the national consultation is “a precursor to a [Cabinet] determination on the current drug classification of marijuana”. If, as expected, public sentiment overwhelming favors legitimizing marijuana use, no other determination can be taken by a government that is “of, for and by the people”.
There is a link between an individual’s sense of hopelessness and self-medication with marijuana. St. Kitts and Nevis should advocate for assistance to strengthen mental health promotion, occupational therapy and addiction treatment as opposed to the big stick approach of stigma, discrimination and incarceration. Additionally, the country’s considerable biomedical research and veterinary medicine assets ought to be leveraged to further advance innovation into medicinal marijuana.
The Federation was not at table in 1961 and 1972 when the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs was first approved then amended. The likelihood is that scant regard was paid to the realities of a colonial backwater. At this juncture in the national journey, fearmongering is the only real obstacle to progress on the marijuana question. Fear of big brother reprisal is unnecessary because they are already selling for profit.
Our constitution guarantees certain fundamental freedoms and rights including the entitlement to worship the Creator in the way of one’s choosing. Spiritual use of marijuana cannot be denied. Self-determination and fearlessness in policy-making are irreversible legacies of the 1935 Buckley’s Uprising. Legalize It!