Even though two states in his country have gone the route of legalizing marijuana, United States President Barack Obama today advised Caribbean countries that was not a silver bullet for solving problems associated with the drug.
Responding to a question this afternoon at a town hall meeting at the University of the West Indies Mona Campus – one of the stops on his visit to Jamaica – Obama said there were serious considerations that must be given to such a move.
“We had some discussion with the Caricom countries about this. I know on paper a lot of folks think, you know, what if we just legalize marijuana then it’ll reduce the money flowing into the transnational drug trade, there are more revenues and jobs created. I have to tell you that it’s not a silver bullet because, first of all, if you are legalising marijuana, how do you deal with other drugs and how do you draw the line,” he reasoned.
“I think we have to have a conversation about this but our current policy continues to be, in the United States, we need to decrease demand and we need to focus on a public health approach to decreasing demand and to stop the flow of guns and cash into the Caribbean and Central America and Latin America,” Obama said. “I think the Caribbean and Latin America to Central America have to cooperate with us to try to shrink the power of the transnational drug organizations that are vicious and hugely disruptive.”
The American president also addressed the issue of whether marijuana should be legalized for medicinal purposes or recreational use.
“There are two states in the United States that have embarked on an experiment to decriminalize or legalize marijuana, Colorado and Washington, and we will see how that experiment works its way through the process,” Obama said.
“Right now that is not federal policy and I do not foresee, anytime soon, Congress changing the law on a national basis. But I do think that if there are states that show that they are not suddenly a magnet for additional crime, that they have a strong enough public health infrastructure to push against the potential of increased addiction then it’s conceivable that that will spur on a national debate, but that is going to be some time off.”
Obama also pointed to the need for reforms to prevent young people involved in drugs being sent to prison unnecessarily.
“The so called war on drugs has been so heavy in emphasising incarceration that it has been counterproductive. You have young people who did not engage in violence who get very long penalties and are placed in prison and then are rendered economically unemployable or almost pushed into the underground economy and learn crime more effectively in prison,” he said.
The US president said that as a result of this families were devastated. He suggested that the reform of criminal justice systems was needed.
CARICOM leaders last year agreed to establish a commission to study the decriminalisation of marijuana for medicinal purposes to look into the social, economic, health and legal issues surrounding marijuana use in the Caribbean.