Friday, December 14, 2012

Allow free trade in marijuana

Source: The Jamaica Gleaner est 1834

That part wasn't lawful, but yesterday in Seattle, near the city's iconic Space Needle tower, scores of users lit up marijuana cigarettes in celebration of the legalisation of the drug in Washington state.

Washingtonians, 21 or older, can now possess up to an ounce of marijuana, for their own use; up to 16 ounces of solid cannabis-infused goods like, say, buns or cakes; and up to 72 ounces of the product in liquid form - ganja tea, perhaps.

While it remains illegal for smokers to light up in public, on pain of a small fine, or to share their personal stash, Washingtonians will soon be able to purchase marijuana in state-licensed stores that will pay taxes and, generally, meet the same requirements to which the tobacco industry is subject.
On January 5, a similar law will come into force in the state of Colorado, with the addition that individuals will be allowed to cultivate a few ganja plants for their own use.

Although marijuana remains a federally prohibited drug, and Washington and Colorado are the first American states to fully legalise its use, 16 others have decriminalised the drug and/or allow its medical consumption.

The developments in Washington and Colorado - the result of voter initiatives in those states - could signal the start of something profound, akin to the ending, nearly 80 years ago, of Prohibition. For as one Seattle lawyer observed: "If they legalise the recreational use (of ganja) and the sky hasn't fallen, that opens the more political space."

What ultimately defeated Prohibition was that it didn't reduce drinking in America, but turned the manufacture and distribution of alcohol into a business controlled by mobsters. Many people see a parallel between Prohibition and the 'War on Drugs'. The fact that marijuana is not perceived to be in the same category as other hard drugs makes of it a good foundation on which to build a review, without the deep divisiveness that might attend another drug.

What is taking place in America has lessons and policy implications for Jamaica.

Parliament is still asleep 

First, it is absurd that more than a decade after a committee chaired by the late Barry Chevannes recommended the decrimalisation of ganja use in Jamaica, our Parliament is still asleep on the matter. The upshot is that each year, thousands of young men are arrested and convicted and made to assume criminal records for having in their possession very small amounts of ganja, primarily for personal use.

The Government should, without delay, remedy this nonsense by implementing the Chevannes recommendations and, perhaps, draw on the laws now in place in Washington state and Colorado. The national Treasury might be a big beneficiary, if the tax earned from tobacco is any guide.
Jamaica should also be positioning itself to take commercial advantage of the developments in the US, especially should the federal prohibition on ganja come to an end. In cases where the consumer experience from the product is indistinguishable, regardless of where it is sourced, what creates market differentiation is branding. There is no doubt that the Jamaica brand is hot. Ganja could find a niche, like Blue Mountain coffee.

JAMPRO, the export promotion agency, should get ahead of the curve by encouraging product development and lobbying America to end its prohibition on ganja and its trade.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.
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