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The Outcomes Of The Legalization Of Marijuana In Jamaica

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It was former US President Barrack Obama who once said, ‘‘Marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol and tobacco’’. These words, however, may not be favorable by the Jamaican society as it is no secret that marijuana has a negative stigma by members of the upper class, older members of society and the corporate world, along with this there has been much controversy surrounding it for decades.

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Jamaica, a country where marijuana is illegal but very common has been very condemning towards it. However, the government, along with policymakers, after years of debates about the legalization of marijuana has realized the need for marijuana reform – including decriminalization and recreational usage. Stimulating economies and improving the standard of living are the main driving forces behind countries that are now adopting more marijuana-friendly laws and policy reform. For years, many national policymakers have advocated policies of this nature as necessary for economic growth and for a lesser counterproductive society- based on the evidence seen in the improved standard of living and GDP by countries and nations directly after legalization. Given such outcome, in April 2015 a bill was passed (ganja act) which allowed the decriminalization of marijuana in Jamaica.

The legalization of marijuana is likely to have both adverse and propitious effects on the Jamaican society by, reducing incarceration through lesser criminal charges and convictions, destigmatizing public perception of marijuana and potentially increase adolescent usage. Firstly, legalization of marijuana would directly lead to a change in the criminal justice system, which in return will result in fewer criminal charges and lockups, propelling the society to be more productive and less discriminating. On the other hand, this view is not shared by anti – marijuana groups who argues that marijuana legalization would increase usage, increase health risks and will serve as a gateway for the usage of other drug substances.

Decriminalization of marijuana has led to considerable savings for Governments, the office of Narcotic Control in the USA reported that decriminalization has been shown to result in substantial reduction in costs to the criminal justice system. Decriminalization, here, refers to the allowance of small possession of marijuana; up to 2oz is now seen as a petty offense that would not result in a criminal record. In Jamaica, decriminalization means there would be lesser criminal charges and convictions due to less emphasis on traditional beliefs resulting in changing attitudes such as more friendly and positive behavior from both the Government and the community. The battle against drugs has been so focused on incarceration that it has been ineffective as nonviolent young people are often convicted and get harsh penalties, which put them in an environment that may serve as a gateway for the underground economy. In Jamaica, this is detrimental to the society as many of these individuals had clean records prior to this, however they get harsh or unfair penalties probably due to a lack of proper legal representation and stereotypical belief associated with them. Moreover, these charges and convictions are often the gateways for more serious offense; upon completing sentences, these ex-convicts are at both economic and social disadvantage, along with this criminal records makes it difficult to obtain employment.

However, critics argues that marijuana will increase usage the government will struggle to fund newly marijuana related consequences thus increasing expenditure while this fund could have use to create employment and that there is no criminal record once a rehabilitation programme and that it was marijuana usage is what put them in economic and social disadvantages in the first place. Legalization would soften or change both the community and government attitudes towards marijuana, in return, can lead to society stop discriminating against marijuana users and therefore result in a less counterproductive society. Additionally, a change in attitude will result in more relaxed laws on marijuana that will free more resources and lower government expenditure. Haughton (2014) asserted that, “The Government and police can stop locking up people for smoking marijuana, this will save time and money as well as free up recourses to combat other crimes, reducing government expenditure on this expense”. However critics argue that this money and time would have to deploy to marijuana related incidence and programme funding due to the increase in availability. This proposal could be beneficial to society as these savings could be used to create additional employment and youth programs, thus preventing and increase in crime and furthermore ease the burden on overloaded courts and penitentiaries.

The youths of a country are the most promising resource, however many of them are at disadvantage due to the discrimination against marijuana usage. This proposal must be taken into consideration because the number of marijuana users in Jamaica is rapidly growing for example ‘’ ‘’ reported that over the past one hundred years, the ganja complex has developed and proliferated in Jamaican society and is extraordinarily well integrated into working-class life styles. Ganja serves multiple purposes that are essentially pragmatic, rather than psychedelic; working-class users smoke ganja to support rational task-oriented behavior, to keep ‘conscious’, fortify health, maintain peer group relations and enhance religious and philosophical contemplation. They express social rather than hedonistic motivations for smoking. This development may be due to the growth of popular culture elements that portray marijuana usage in a positive manner, which influences the broad social acceptance, and usage of marijuana, while rejecting the traditional arguments against marijuana such as criminality and the gateway theory. For example influential dancehall artiste Popcaan has a song named ‘Weed is my best friend which basically openly advocates and endorses the acceptance of marijuana usage. Factors such as the aforementioned are partly responsible for the intriguing wide spread of marijuana use in Jamaica. In addition to less incarceration, legalization of marijuana could destigmatize the negative perception associated with marijuana through a shift in public attitude. Though there has been a decriminalization of marijuana there is still a negative stigma surrounding it.

Meanwhile critics find this belief on destigmatization to be profoundly misguided because in studies examining the perception of cannabis as a stigmatized medicine, data show that despite its increasing prevalence and acceptance among the general public, cannabis use continues to be viewed as an aberrant activity in many contexts, and the participant’s experiences of stigma were related to negative views of cannabis. This finding supports the idea that persons such as members or supporters of anti-marijuana groups and non-smokers who are against the legalization of marijuana are doing so because of sentimental beliefs and attitudes, which persuade them to be so judgmental towards marijuana and this further leads to misconception, which causes constant condemnation and discrimination of marijuana.

Though the research applied to the US society, the results of the research can also be applied to Jamaica society, as we are greatly influenced by American culture and behavior. It is expected that with the continued change in attitude and public perception of marijuana such as more marijuana friendly laws and acceptance, there may be a change in the negative behaviors towards marijuana such as the unfair and unjust treatment of marijuana users, greater acceptance can allow for the establishment of a marijuana industry that will contribute to economic development and a society that truly value human rights. Conversely, the legalization of marijuana could increase adolescent usage, as generally, an increase in availability of anything results in more consumption of that good. This may be a result of a surge in productivity growth due to the adoption of hydroponic techniques of production and softening community attitude such as being more marijuana friendly and less stereotypical.

National Survey on Drug Use and Health, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported that after the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes and recreation in Colorado licensed patients rose from 4, 800 to 41, 000 in 2009. In this regard, legalization of marijuana would encourage more usage as it creates an environment with greater social acceptance towards both medical and recreational marijuana usage along with possibly lower prices. This kind of outcome was observed in Oregon and Colorado where the number of legal marijuana sale rose tremendously. Given these kinds of trends like changes in social adjustment and cultural realignments, it is important that Jamaica takes the further consideration and measures rather than making any hasty decisions that may cause societal problems. Although the relationship between legalization and increase marijuana usage was observed through the experiences of Colorado and Oregon States, one must take into consideration that legalization does not surely result in higher usage, as other researchers failed to show a direct correlation between legalization and increase marijuana usage. MacCoun et al. reported that the decriminalization of marijuana in the Netherlands and other countries was not associated with the increased use of marijuana and other illicit substances. Likewise, another study showed that for non-smokers legalization has almost no effect on encouraging new users.

These findings mean that for now persons such as anti-marijuana groups and supporters should discontinue assumptions and judgments about an increase in marijuana usage in Jamaica due to legalization because further research and data are needed to come to an absolute conclusion. Given recent outcomes and experiences of other countries and states that allowed legalization, if applied to Jamaica there could be both favorable and unfavorable impact on the society. The favorable outcome could be realized through a reduction in incarceration and the destigmatizing of the negative attitudes towards marijuana. On the other hand, the society may experience an increase in adolescent’s usage of marijuana. For now the legalization of marijuana in Jamaica could very well be dependent on the different moral attitudes of the society.

01 April 2020

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