Almost half the Barbadian population has tried marijuana and one in four smoke it regularly, according to a recent survey.
A study conducted last December also found that alcohol remains the drug of choice with seven in ten Barbadians having experimented with drinking.
The survey, commissioned by the Office of the Attorney General, revealed that more than four in ten people (43 per cent) had experimented with ganja, three in ten
(32 per cent) had used it sparingly, while one in four (24 per cent) were regular users.
The survey results were released last night by pollster Peter Wickham at a panel discussion organized by the University of the West Indies Faculty of Social Sciences at Cave Hill.
“So we’re looking at almost a quarter of our population that would say that they regularly use marijuana, a third use it occasionally, and close to half experiment with marijuana,” Wickham, one of the panellists discussing Medical Marijuana: Medical Breakthrough or Further Hindrance to The Development of Caribbean Youth, told the audience.
Even with the growing number of users, alcohol consumption remains high, with experimentation close to 70 per cent, occasional use over 50 per cent, and regular use at 30 per cent, the survey found.
“So ganja still has some catching up to do as far as use is concerned,” Wickham said.
The 2015 study also discovered a dramatic shift in Barbadians’ attitude towards the legalization or decriminalization of the drug.
It showed that the number of Barbadians who believe weed should be partially legalized has trebled from one in ten approximately seven years ago to three in ten today. At the same time, nearly four in ten remained adamant that marijuana should be illegal, down drastically from over seven in ten people during the same period.
“What we’ve seen is a drop from 73 per cent to 37 per cent, which means that since 2008 to 2015 – which is not a long time – 36 per cent less Barbadians support the retention of the status quo [that marijuana is illegal].
“While nine per cent supported partial legalization in 2008, 30 per cent now support partial legalization.”
Wickham, who heads Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES), a prominent regional polling agency, explained that the growing debate in recent years about the drug had resulted in the rise in support for decriminalization.
“So even though we’re still not supporting it fully, we’re now in a situation where the trend appears to be in the direction of the support for decriminalization, which shouldn’t surprise you,” he said.
The pollster reported that 30 per cent of Barbadians supported legalization for medical or religious purposes and 15 per cent supported complete legalization.
Meantime, retired psychiatrist Dr Ermine Belle threw her support behind easing the laws regarding ganja to allow its use for medical reasons.
Dr Belle, a former Senior Consultant Psychiatrist at the Psychiatric Hospital, told the audience medical marijuana was “not a myth, it is here to stay”.
She stressed that there was evidence that the drug had been successful in treating diseases such as glaucoma, epilepsy, chronic pain and multiple sclerosis.
“Psychiatrists have seen the bad and the ugly of marijuana usage [and] we’ve been in the frontline of treating the negative effects and the outcomes of marijuana usage. We can’t disregard, however, and close our minds to the fact that medical science and research has shown that there are definite benefits to marijuana usage in many chronic physical conditions,” she said.
“How can we ignore facts?”