THE use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, says National Security Minister Dr Bernard Nottage, is a knotty issue that will soon have to be debated. Government is now feeling the pressure as the police discover more and more fields of marijuana growing in remote areas, not only on New Providence, but in the Family Islands, particularly Grand Bahama.
For example, only last week police discovered — and destroyed — a marijuana field hidden off the beaten track in east Grand Bahama. There they uncovered 75,000 marijuana plants worth about $7.5m. In March, another field was found with 167,000 plants. This field was worth $17m.
Jamaica has already announced that it intends to decriminalise marijuana by the end of the year, while other Caribbean islands have it under consideration. California, for example, as have other states in the US, have taken the plunge. However, the use, sale and possession of marijuana in the US is still illegal under federal law, although some states have created exemptions. Two states, for example, Colorado and Washington, have legalised cannabis for recreational use after a referendum won the day.
It has been suggested that the Bahamas recognise the medical benefits and also decriminalise this aspect of the “weed”. But how will this be policed without opening it up to the general public? There are those, judging by the comments of several Bahamians on Tribune242 who want the Bahamas to commercially enter the field of marijuana production and start reaping millions. This would be a tragic error. Bahamians who lived through the “drug years” know that the social and criminal problems that this small nation faces today took root in the seventies and eighties. Those were the years that drugs destroyed our society, our youth and undermined our whole value system.
It is true – as most countries argue— that too much is being expended on trying to crush the trade, which despite the effort, seems to find new routes to escape the law. Legalise it, they say, save the cost spent on trying to crush it, and rather use what is saved on enforcement to educate our youth as to its dangers.
The Foundation for a drug free world (drug free world.org) has this to say about the dangers of marijuana use.
“The immediate effects of taking marijuana include rapid heart beat, disorientation, lack of physical coordination, often followed by depression or sleepiness. Some users suffer panic attacks or anxiety,” says the report.
“But the problem does not end there. According to scientific studies, the active ingredient in cannabis, THC, remains in the body for weeks or longer.
“Marijuana smoke contains 50 per cent to 70 per cent more cancer-causing substances than tobacco smoke. One major research study reported that a single cannabis joint could cause as much damage to the lungs as up to five regular cigarettes smoked one after another. Long-time joint smokers often suffer from bronchitis, an inflammation of the respiratory tract.
“The drug,” says the report, “can affect more than your physical health. Studies in Australia in 2008 linked years of heavy marijuana use to brain abnormalities. This is backed up by earlier research on the long-term effects of marijuana, which indicate changes in the brain similar to those caused by long-term abuse of other major drugs. And a number of studies have shown a connection between continued marijuana use and psychosis.
“Marijuana,” the report continues, “changes the structure of sperm cells, deforming them. Thus even small amounts of marijuana can cause temporary sterility in men. Marijuana use can upset a woman’s menstrual cycle.
“Studies show that the mental functions of people who have smoked a lot of marijuana tend to be diminished. The THC in cannabis disrupts nerve cells in the brain affecting memory.
“Cannabis is one of the few drugs which causes abnormal cell division which leads to severe hereditary defects. A pregnant woman who regularly smokes marijuana or hashish may give birth prematurely to an undersized, underweight baby. Over the last 10 years, many children of marijuana users have been born with reduced initiative and lessened abilities to concentrate and pursue life goals. Studies also suggest that prenatal (before birth) use of the drug may result in birth defects, mental abnormalities and increased risk of leukemia 1 in children”.
All this is true. However, it has also been found that marijuana is the only cure for certain ailments.
For example, Dr Sanjay Gupta, a US nuerosurgeon and CNN medical commentator, who did an article on why he would “vote no to pot”, decided to take time off to study the subject more closely. Much to his surprise what he found caused him to change his mind — at least in the case of medical marijuana. He found that there are certain very serious ailments that only marijuana can cure. In these cases he learned that marijuana was a “plant that can work wonders.” He has apologised to his TV viewers for his earlier position on marijuana, coming to the conclusion that no one who needed the weed for medical purposes should be denied it.
It was also found that casual marijuana smoking — with the emphasis on “casual” — was not harmful to the lungs.
However, the popular television doctor, still has some reservations.
“I do want to mention a concern that I think about as a father,” he told his TV audience. “Young, developing brains are likely more susceptible to harm from marijuana than adult brains. Some recent studies suggest that regular use in teenage years leads to a permanent decrease in IQ. Other research hints at a possible heightened risk of developing psychosis.
“Much in the same way I wouldn’t let my own children drink alcohol, I wouldn’t permit marijuana until they are adults. If they are adamant about trying marijuana, I will urge them to wait until they’re in their mid-20s when their brains are fully developed.”
The pros and cons of this subject are difficult. The Bahamas with its own tragic experience for so many years will have to go slowly and think deeply before taking the plunge on this one.