The nuisance drug: decriminalise it – but we must never legalise it

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“Some call it tampee

Some call it weed

Some call it marijuana

Some of them call it ganja

Legalise it and don’t criticise it

Legalise it, ye-ah, ye-ah, and I will advertise it”

It has been more than 40 years since the release of Peter Tosh’s signature tune Legalise It, from his hit debut solo album by the same name, yet still we remain locked in this vexing debate about whether cannabis should be legalised — in this country and the world over.

The liberals have won out in any number of jurisdictions, where cannabis has been either legalised or decriminalised for personal and medicinal use. But it is significant to note that these remain a very small minority.

Few would associate Uruguay with being the ganja capital of the world, but it is only there that cannabis is legal straight across the board — possession, sale, transport and cultivation.

Nowhere else is such freedom allowed; not even in Colombia or Jamaica, where you are free to grow weed until your heart is content but where it is illegal to be caught in possession of more than two ounces.

Bermuda’s Director of Public Prosecutions, Larry Mussenden, is to be applauded for a largely commonsense approach to what has become the world’s nuisance drug: not a performance enhancer or “food for the brain” but rather a debilitation, a drug that has been linked to psychosis, anxiety and depressive disorder.

German legislators have so taken to throwing their hands up in the air as to what to do about it that they have shifted the burden of responsibility on to the consumer, on the basis that the consumption of cannabis is nothing more than self-harm.

Akin to saying: “It’s your funeral.”

We should care a bit more about our citizens, the young in particular, despite their growing indifference to rules and regulations, and to adults whom they feel are hellbent on stopping them from enjoying their youth.

It is just that using recreational drugs to enjoy their youth — “you were young once”, a caller irrationally blurted out last week over a story that only tenuously could be linked to drug abuse in sport — can have significant implications for their futures.

There are too many downsides connected to the five-minute high for cannabis to be freely available in our society; just as tobacco smoking is a genuine health risk and as excessive alcohol consumption is even more so.

Decriminalising cannabis for the sake of it is of little value without a Plan B to rehabilitate those who may get caught up — and that is where Mussenden, who in his former life as a defence lawyer and president of the Bermuda Football Association was intrinsically linked with the conversation on illicit drug use, has got it right.

First in the caution cut-off point of three grams — enough to make seven to ten joints, or “spliffs”, depending on the desired strength and gleaned from researched opinion that the average joint contains 0.32 grams of cannabis — then in outlining what is essentially a “four strikes” policy wherein assessment, counselling and testing play leading roles.

Anyone caught with more than three grams of cannabis rightly can be presumed to be actively involved in trafficking the drug for profit — criminal exploitation — and should be prosecuted to the fullness of the law. Which makes untenable the Progressive Labour Party’s insistence on a seven-gram cut-off, effectively dishing out cautions willy-nilly.

In Mussenden’s policy, which was drafted officially into law yesterday, the protections for our most vulnerable between the ages of 13 and 17 are made readily apparent.

For those who are older, while it serves the purpose of removing the clutter in Magistrates’ Court, the policy ensures that all have the opportunity to have their records free of something that might come back to bite them in later life.

It bears reaffirming, though, that the greatest protection against alcohol and substance abuse begins in the family home; the Department of Child & Family Services is there merely to stop the bleeding and to halt the rate of recidivism, and the courts will tackle the rest — those who wilfully are breaking the law.

For any hope of a drug-free future, it is the home we must target and Mussenden’s policy does that quite impressively for its clarity of thought and ease of understanding. This policy is so succinct in its outline that it could be titled Caution Policy Guideline For Dummies.

No parent, and we mean no parent, should struggle to spell out to their child not only the clear dangers of being caught in simple possession but the step-by-step process that must follow if they are to avoid the worst-case scenario of being stigmatised heading into adult and working life.

Then with foresight, rather than kneejerk, “you were young once” hindsight, they could sit their child down for a heart-to-heart and ask rather pointedly and with rhetorical effect: “Is it worth it?”

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Published Feb 24, 2017 at 8:00 am (Updated Feb 24, 2017 at 8:33 pm)

The nuisance drug: decriminalise it – but we must never legalise it

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