Cannabis Bill tabled, but has cost been counted?

IT has taken a long time – but the bills to deal with the decriminalisation of marijuana, and to allow medical marijuana were tabled in the House of Assembly yesterday.

There has been much talk about this legislation – and yet, not always a great deal of consultation. The head of a pharmacist association, for example, talks in today’s Tribune of how his association offered its thoughts on the legislation, but never got a reply from government.

It is a difficult area. We have seen ourselves at The Tribune how marijuana has affected people’s lives. While use of small amounts may be decriminalised, nor should it be encouraged.

Medical marijuana certainly does merit exploration. There have been many who have found that it has made an appreciable difference, especially in reducing pain in cases such as cancer or multiple sclerosis, or arthritis.

Where such a difference can be proven to make a difference in people’s lives, it should certainly be an option that is available.

There is of course a great difference between medical treatment and recreational use.

The discussion about these bills will continue, we are quite sure, including such elements as to how it applies to followers of the Rastafarian faith.

What we hope does not get lost in the rush towards these changes is that the cost is not forgotten.

And by cost we mean the social cost, the health cost and sometimes the mental cost.

Heavy marijuana use can have significant negative effects – including mental health issues such as schizophrenia or depression.

Now, in saying this, it should of course be said that other things can have negative effects that are quite legal – we have seen too often the damage caused by alcohol on people’s lives too.

Yet we have long accepted alcohol as part of our society while not perhaps examining closely enough how we can rectify some of the damage it causes.

In making a change with marijuana, there is an opportunity to put protections in place from the outset.

In The Bahamas, we are not terribly good at tackling issues of mental health, and drug addiction.

We should be better. We should understand that treatment and remedy is necessary. This is where decriminalisation has its benefits – if we encourage people towards treatment rather than tossing them in a prison cell at the first opportunity.

Can we walk that fine balance between withholding excessive punishment and avoiding encouraging something that might not be to the benefit of the individual or society at large? We do not have a good track record of walking that walk.

So we hope there is a thorough discussion of this set of bills. We hope that those who feel they have not been adequately consulted are listened to, and carefully.

This is a moment of change. Will it be for the better? Or the worse? We must tread carefully.

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