KINGSTON –– Pointing to a 50 per cent increase in the number of students now being treated for marijuana use, Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton Wednesday recommended an in-depth review of the impact that amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act are having on the country.
Tufton, in his sectoral debate in Parliament, also suggested the implementation of a properly funded prevention and control programme to combat the problem.
According to Tufton, local and international studies confirm that there are potentially serious implications for the health and well-being of people who use cannabis.
“Ninety per cent of the adolescents seen in the National Council on Drug Abuse’s (NCDA’s) drug treatment programme are referred due to problems associated with marijuana use,” Tufton reported. “Moreover, treatment reports reflected a 54 per cent increase in students enrolled in a ganja [use] prevention programme called ‘STEP-UP’ since the decriminalisation of possession of two ounces or less of ganja. Ongoing islandwide surveillance in drug treatment centres also reveals that 50 per cent of the clients are in treatment for marijuana use.”
The Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act was brought into operation in Jamaica in April 2015.
More popularly known as the ‘Ganja Law’, it makes possession of two or less ounces of ganja a ticketable offence; prohibits the smoking of ganja in public places; and makes provisions for the granting of licences as well as the establishment of a regulated industry for ganja for medical, scientific and therapeutic uses.
But Wednesday Tufton said that, despite the hype around relaxation of restrictions and the potential benefits to society from easing of the restrictions and from the manufacturing of various by-products, he wished, from a public health perspective, to urge caution.
Legislators, he suggested, should “balance the need to explore and experiment with the need for public education and follow through on legislation in order to minimise the potential for abuse, particularly of our youth”.
He said that the amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act necessitate a comprehensive strategy to address the implications of the changes for various groups in Jamaica, especially the youth.
“The NCDA had proposed and presented a comprehensive public education campaign to the Cabinet Ganja Sub-committee, which was accepted and should have been funded by the participating government agencies and ministries,” Tufton said.
“Of the $321 million needed for this comprehensive education campaign, only 20 per cent was received and expended. The Ministry of Health is the only ministry to have contributed significantly to the public education campaign, and additional funding was received from the United States Embassy through the International Narcotics Legislation,” the health minister added.
“I firmly believe that, based on the evidence being presented here, there needs to be a comprehensive relook and implementation of the amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act, the impact it is having and will have on the health services, and that funding be urgently put in place to ensure a robust prevention and control programme in this regard,” Dr Tufton said.