WE ARE pleased that Prime Minister Hubert Minnis, in considering whether marijuana should be legalised in the Bahamas, will not be looking at the revenue that such legalisation might bring in, but on the medical benefits that marijuana, if controlled, could offer our people.
Already we hear excited talk as though some Bahamians think that with a shovel and a bit of earth, they can have their own ganja plot in their backyard and reap themselves a fortune.
The Bahamas has suffered the destructive side of marijuana from the early seventies when Colombian drug peddlers — Joe Lehder, Kojak. and “the boys” – paid their way through these islands, corrupting from the highest to the lowest of our citizens and destroying the moral fibre of our people. Most of today’s criminality and gang mentality took root in those early days of illegality.
Today, a new light has been thrown on the marijuana plant, which has manifested many benefits that the medical profession is studying, in some cases with astonishing results.
In the United States it has been suggested that the legalisation of marijuana could help offset that country’s current opioid epidemic – described as “the worst opioid epidemic the world has ever seen.” Research in the US has shown that opioid overdose in the past 15 years “has been implicated in over 500,000 deaths since 2000 – more than the number of Americans killed in World War II.”
Doctors are now speculating that legal marijuana might be a preferred medical substance — “unlike opioids it has little addiction potential and virtually no deaths” from an overdose. Teams of researchers are now comparing states that have legalised marijuana to those that do not.
So far it has been discovered that there are fewer deaths from opioid use when opioids have been dropped as medication and marijuana substituted. However, the medical fraternity is still wrestling with the miracles of nature.
California was the first state to legalise marijuana in 1996, followed by 29 states since then with very rigid restrictions. Researchers have agreed that “as more states debate the merits of legalising marijuana in the coming months and years, more research will be needed to create consistency between cannabis science and cannabis policy.”
Last year history was made when Jamaican scientist Dr Henry Lowe developed a drug from cannabis (the marijuana plant) to treat acute myeloid leukemia. He was granted “orphan-drug” designation by the United States Food and Drug Administration to continue his research.
And in England, Britain’s Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies announced this month that she had found “conclusive evidence of the therapeutic benefit of cannabis-based medicinal products for certain medical conditions.”
Canada also announced plans to legalise marijuana this month for recreational as well as medical use. Of course, there are very strict rules about growing marijuana —up to four plants at home, provided they are not more than a meter high. The minimum age for recreational use is 18 years, although some provinces can raise the age limit. The federal government plans to impose penalties of up to 14 years in prison for selling or giving marijuana to minors.
However, some in Canada’s medical profession have expressed grave concern about the dangers of setting too low a minimum age. The Canadian Psychiatric Association has sought to ban sales to anybody under the age of 21 and limit the potency of products sold to people between 21 and 25.
“There is a strong evidence base showing that early and regular cannabis use can affect cognition, such as memory, attention, intelligence and the ability to process thoughts and experiences,” said Renuka Prasad, president of the association, who also noted that cannabis use can “increase the risk of mental-health issues like depression and psychotic disorders in vulnerable young people.”
We have heard so many stories and seen enough miracle cures from various strains of cannabis that we have no difficulty in supporting the legalisation of medical marijuana.
However, recreational marijuana is a different problem - we have also seen the dark side of that.
If a limited amount of recreational marijuana could be purchased over the counter like a bottle of whiskey, it would certainly break up the gangs and the illicit peddling. But employers would have to have severe restrictions on their work force — for example today no one can report for work drunk, nor can there be smoking in a smoke free establishment. So it should be with marijuana.
We recall in the seventies when we discovered that some of our pressmen were heavy marijuana users while operating our large Suburban press that produces over a thousand Tribune pages a minute.
Their reflexes were nil, an accident could have been fatal. Fortunately, our teenage son was home for the summer from his school in England at the time.
He had been well trained in the building and operation of the large press. He recruited two young men from the Out Islands, who had so far been untouched by drugs, and trained them in the operation of the press before it was time for him to return to his studies.
For that period of our history, employees in this department could only remain on our staff if they agreed to regular drug tests at the hospital. They always had to be drug free, because they never knew when we would have them escorted to the hospital.
There are benefits — especially in curbing crime – in the legalisation of recreational marijuana, but unless the penalties are very severe for abuse it will be a constant headache for the business community.
Anyway, the matter is now open for debate.