Attorney General and Minister of Home Affairs Adriel Brathwaite believes the national conversation on marijuana use has been “hijacked” by pro-legalizers, who he today described as “people who want us to walk about the streets and smoke”.
However, while indicating that he was ready to entertain medicinal use of the drug for the alleviation of “pain and suffering”, Brathwaite warned that he was not about to go down the road of full legalization.
In fact, he was adamant that the national conversation on ganja use urgently needed to change.
“The [national] talking point has been on legalization, not the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes,” Brathwaite pointed out, while insisting that this was the “wrong conversation”.
He further claimed that “the national conversation has been hijacked by people who want us to walk about the streets and smoke marijuana”, and while acknowledging the need for research into the medicinal use of the drug, the Attorney General charged that “half of the guys who smoke weed don’t know what they are putting into their bodies”.
“That [recreational ganja smoking] is different from examining the medical properties, extracting what is best, and being able to use that. That is a different story,” he stressed.
However, in support of plans revealed yesterday by Senior Medical Officer Dr Kenneth George to examine the possible use of marijuana for medical reasons, Brathwaite said: “I would think that once the Ministry of Health is satisfied that the benefits outweigh the negatives like any other drug, then it would be accommodated.”
Today’s statement was the clearest yet from the Attorney General who has stated repeatedly in the past that he was neither for nor against legalization, but that he wanted the right decision made in the interest of Barbadians.
It also coincided with a call by Director of the Criminal Justice Research and Planning Unit Cheryl Willoughby for a measured approach to the decriminalization of marijuana.
While accepting that marijuana use was now widespread in Barbados, the criminologist warned that decriminalization was not the answer.
“There have been calls to decriminalize marijuana but I don’t think that is going to be the solution to our problems,” she said.
And while using Jamaica and Colorado as examples of states which have gone that route, she said: “We are not able as yet to determine the effects of decriminalizing marijuana.
“ . . . so until we can do that, we need to take a measured approach to the decriminalization of marijuana,” she told reporters on the sidelines of the launch of the Criminal Justice Career Showcase at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.
Even as she echoed some of the Attorney General’s concerns, Willoughby admitted that marijuana use in Barbados was now “prolific”.
“I have been told that you can buy marijuana from any street corner, so I think we need to focus on that,” she cautioned.
Willoughby believes that rather than concentrate on ways of making the drug legally accessible, concerted efforts must be made to educate young people about the ramifications of substance abuse.
“We need to educate young people regarding the danger of early marijuana use because research has shown that prolonged marijuana use have severe adverse effects on the brain, especially when abused at an early age,” she said, referring to young people’s inability to control anger while under the influence.
A recent poll done by CADRES on behalf of the Office of the Attorney General found almost half the Barbadian population had tried marijuana, one in four smoke it regularly, and 30 per cent supported its legalization for medical or religious purposes.
In the meantime, the Ministry of Health is said to be collecting “evidence” for use of the drug as a remedy against pain for patients suffering from chronic diseases and cancer.
“The Ministry of Health is currently gathering the evidence with respect to marijuana use in well-defined clinical situations that will include assisting persons in pain management for cancers and chronic degenerative diseases,” Dr George told a conference on the availability and rational use of opioids, which was hosted by the International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care.
He noted then that Barbados was the primary supplier of opioids to Eastern Caribbean countries and argued that the use of such drugs, as well as painkillers, was a pivotal part of the palliative process.
“Although the majority of patients with cancer have pain, proper use of opioids and adjuvant drugs can provide adequate relief in most cases. Opioids are the mainstay of pain control in patients with advanced disease, and they are effective in treating most types of pain,” he explained.