Tuesday 31 March, 2020

De La Haye says no to legalisation of ganja for recreational purposes

Dr Winston De La Haye

Dr Winston De La Haye

Deputy Dean in the Faculty of Medical Sciences at the University of the West Indies, Dr Winston De La Haye has asserted that Jamaica would be making a huge mistake if it pursues the legalisation of ganja for recreational use. 

Presently, Jamaica is among a number of countries that have decriminalised the recreational use of ganja in limited quantities. Under the Dangerous Drugs Amendment Act (DDA) of 2015, the possession of two ounces or less of ganja is no longer an offence for which one can be arrested, charged and tried in court, and it will not result in a criminal record.

However, it remains a criminal offence to be in possession of over two ounces of ganja, and offenders can be arrested, charged, tried in court and, if found guilty, sentenced to a fine or to imprisonment or both. The smoking of ganja in a public place or within five metres of a public place is also prohibited under the law, in a manner similar to cigarettes.

With a reported 50 per cent increase in the use of ganja in the aftermath of the 2015 legislation, in particular among adolescents, De La Haye is rapping the Government for not undertaking a massive and sustained public education campaign that warns about the potential dangers of abusing ganja.

“When was the last time you saw or heard a public service announcement outlining the dangers of smoking or otherwise consuming ganja?” De La Haye, the former chief medical officer (CMO) in the Ministry of Health, asked in an interview with Loop News last month.

While accepting that individuals should educate themselves about the dangers, De La Haye insists the government must take the lead role.

“Whenever you have a major piece of legislation, it is your responsibility and obligation as a government to educate the public. I warned them about this back then,” De La Haye told Loop News.

"We have not heard a single public service announcement in recent times (about the potential dangers of using ganja) and the entity that should take the lead role - the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA) can’t do so because it is broke."

According to him, the current problems have resulted from the wrong approach being taken to decriminalisation in 2015.

De La Haye, who was CMO up to January 2018, is also a consultant psychiatrist at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI). He was first appointed acting CMO in February 2016, some 10 months after decriminalisation took effect. But he has always been outspoken about the dangers associated with the use of ganja for recreational purposes.

De La Haye posited, at the time the DDA was amended, that we should have looked at what existed before in terms of the number of persons using ganja, what existed when the law took effect, and what was the state-of-affairs one year after. He said such monitoring would have been crucial to developing appropriate responses and interventions.

The consultant psychiatrist revealed that the UHWI where he works as a consultant psychiatrist was seeing up to eight out of every 10 admissions with a ganja-related issue in his area.

De La Haye, who supports decriminalisation for medicinal and research purposes, is concerned about what has happened since 2015, with young people expressing that they were now free to smoke weed and have access to the drug.

“It is limiting the academic and scholastic potential of our young men in particular as studies have shown. These are young men who, in a few years, should be transitioning into the work world,” he observed.

De La Haye said Jamaica no longer has to look at what obtains in other countries to understand how to treat the issue as we are now well aware of the dangers associated with ganja use.

 “We have now conducted our own research and the findings are available so we no longer have to look outside Jamaica,” he said.

The former CMO told Loop News that one such recent study looked at two groups of adolescents – one group used ganja while the other group did not.

“We did expect that those who used the drug would have some issues but, in every area that we examined, those issues were magnified above what we had anticipated. This was true in every area including their cognitive and learning skills – those were severely impaired,” he said.

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