By Orville Williams
The government has admitted that the move to decriminalise the cultivation and use of marijuana for personal use is potentially contributing to the prevalence of substance abuse among the nation’s youth.
That admission followed word from the police that marijuana is one of the substances most abused by children in the country, and also public condemnation of that reality by members of the public who believe it is evidence of a decaying society.
Cabinet Spokesperson, Information Minister Melford Nichola addressed the issue during yesterday’s post-Cabinet media briefing, noting that the changed laws do need some adjusting.
“When the matter was contemplated in the first instance, it was not intended that there should be any wide scale abuse or expansion of the use of the substance.
“The idea of decriminalising the use of marijuana, where young men were found with small amounts for personal use, was then and is still good public policy.
“The whole idea that young men at the younger age when they are impressionable or sometimes curious, for them to have a criminal record that follows them throughout their whole life, we felt that it was necessary for us to decriminalise.
“Unfortunately, the decriminalisation has been interpreted by a wide swath of the society to mean that it has been legalised, so I think we have to go back and fine-tune that policy,” Nicholas said.
According to this week’s post-Cabinet report, a multi-sectoral group – including the police, the Ministry of Legal Affairs, the Child Protection Unit, NGOs, churches and other community groups –will be established “to study the subject of substance abuse and to perfect ways of discouraging youth from participating in this harmful exercise”.
It also stated that a number of activities that have apparently worked in other jurisdictions to reduce the prevalence of substance abuse have been identified.
That sort of engagement and interaction with the public, Nicholas added, is a major component of the new policy on cannabis use that has not been maximised to its full potential.
“One of the areas that should also have come with it was more public education, in terms of the negative effects of an abuse of the substance.
“So, there is a need for better public education and of course, to fine tune the policy, to ensure that all persons or parties are aware that decriminalisation does not mean legalisation.
“But we have to study this particular area before we can take any concrete and decisive actions”.
Under the current regulations, persons over age 18 are permitted to possess a maximum of 15 grams of cannabis, while no more than four cannabis plants can be grown in each household.