A local criminologist is dismissing British billionaire Sir Richard Branson’s recommendation on marijuana use as a moot point, suggesting the Englishman was way off the mark.
The Virgin Atlantic boss yesterday added his voice to the call for the use of small amounts of cannabis to be made legal here, joining what has been a controversial and emotive debate.
However, Director of the Criminal Justice Research and Planning (CJRP) Unit Cheryl Willoughby today brushed aside the suggestions, arguing the criminal justice system was by no means inundated with people charged with using small amounts of ganja.
Nearly all marijuana-related cases, she said, were linked to possession and trafficking in large amounts of the illegal substance.
“Most of the persons, and I mean 99 per cent of the persons, who have to face the criminal justice system for marijuana are those who are involved in trafficking and those who have large amounts of marijuana.
“We have to look at our own local experience, and from the research, those who are dealt with by courts are not dealt with because of a spliff,” Willoughby told journalists on the sideline of this morning’s launch of Winners’ Circle 11-plus Programme at the Ministry of Home Affairs in Wildey, St Michael.
Speaking yesterday at the Business is an Adventure leadership conference at the Hilton Barbados Resort,
Branson said the fight against drug use globally had been
“an abject failure for the last 60 years”, and the authorities here should consider treating the issue as a health matter, not a criminal one.
Pointing out that there had been detailed research on “the war on drugs” over the years, the billionaire adventurer said it was “absolutely clear that if you treat people that have a drug problem as a health issue and not a criminal issue you are much more likely to address it and help them and get over that problem and become useful members of society.
“So we welcome the different experimentations going on around the world and we welcome countries that have tried decriminalizing drugs. We welcome states that have actually legalized marijuana,” he added, contending there had been no increase in cannabis use in where it had been legalized,” he said.
However the CJRP director is warning against any attempt to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to the issue, noting that the country had made significant strides towards treating marijuana use as a health issue.
“We cannot look at what is happening in other jurisdictions. If you look at Barbados within the past two years, we have established the Drug Treatment Court where we have actually taken another step in ensuring that young persons in particular get help for marijuana use and other drug use. So I cannot say that we should decriminalize the use of marijuana because that does not reflect the reality of our criminal justice system,” she stressed.
Just this week Senior Registrar in the Department of Psychiatry at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) Dr Tonya Holder predicted differing opinions among mental health specialists and those dealing with internal medicine on decriminalization of marijuana.
She told a discussion on Exploring Suicide in Barbados at the Cave Hill Wesleyan Holiness Church that doctors in psychiatry would argue that early cannabis use would lead to “early onset schizophrenia, more mental health issues, and an increase in substance abuse in general, which can lead to forensic cases, disinhibition, and we can see suicide attempts increasing as well”.
“However, internal medicine doctors may want to look at medicinal marijuana and what they see as positives, such as extracting a few cannabinoids from the plant and using them to treat glaucoma, and to assist in pain management with cancer. So, you will get mixed answers to this for sure, but from a psychiatrist’s end my answer would be ‘no,’” Dr Holder said.