Should cannabis use be legalized in Barbados for medical and recreational purposes as was done in Canada, it may help authorities determine the plant’s effect on criminality while meeting the needs of many.
Currently, law enforcers and the medical fraternity have no conclusive proof on whether use of the plant leads to criminal behaviour in Barbados and can only cite data from other cultures like the Canadian environment as examples of its net effect.
This is among deductions to be taken from a Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners’ discussion forum on the Canadian experience prior to and the short time immediately after legalization in October, and what lessons it holds for Barbados.
Canadian family medicine Professor, Dr Mark Ware, made the main presentation on medical marijuana at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre this week, but much of the interactive discussion between a panel of experts and members of the audience centred on what Barbadian authorities know about the plant, and whether it is getting a bad rap because medical personnel are not free to test theories and assumptions.
Crosstalk erupted between members of the audience and panellist attorney, Angella Mitchell-Gittens, who said probation reports on those found guilty of crimes in general show an overwhelming use of cannabis among the individuals.
Gittens, a criminal litigator of over 20 years, said Tuesday night that when probation officers interview persons after they are convicted of crimes in Barbados, it has been found “in 96 per cent of those reports at least there is marijuana use… they may or may not use alcohol, but in the majority of these cases marijuana is the drug of choice. I have a concern because I do not think it is a coincidence that there is marijuana usage with persons who are convicted of criminal offences.
“It is too frequent for it to be a coincidence. I’m not sure what it is… all I’m saying is that it needs to be determined,” she said.
The challenge to determining cause and effect is that the central subject of the study, the plant, is illegal.
One member of the audience said that the 96 per cent figure mentioned by Gittens may be skewed because it is limited to a small number of Barbadians, “you could be seeing three per cent of the population, we don’t know”.
Pro-cannabis legislation advocates in the audience charged that the social attitude towards the illegal plant creates a negative atmosphere that pressures not only users but also those associated with smokers and officials.
A person with the given name ‘Herbert Spliffington’ contended that the true picture differed to Gittens’ statement and cited his experience as an example.
Spliffington said he had been convicted of a crime and during his pre-sentencing interview, “they [probation officers] tried to convince me marijuana was the cause of my crimes. I was not the person saying marijuana was the cause. I was being convinced.”
Spliffington said he was warded at the psychiatric hospital based on an unfavourable report “because I was not saying marijuana was the cause of my problems”.
Another advocate said that because of marijuana’s bad name in Barbados, smokers are shunned into the wrong company at the edge of society where they are encouraged into abuse of other drugs while neglecting their health.
He said this produces pariah behaviour, “but the only thing that society looks to blame is marijuana itself. Is it that the justice system is looking to use marijuana to strengthen the case of their said justice system?”
He argued, “if you bring marijuana in the legal framework where you can choose the potency, what strain you want to use… where you can choose just as if you got a headache you chose a Panadol, and a laxative for the bathroom”.
Panellist and Pharmacologist Dr Damian Cohall supported the call for the plant’s legalization to enable greater examination of its effects on users in Barbados in a regulated environment.
Cohall, who is Deputy Dean of Pre-Clinical Sciences at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus said, “cause, effect as an association, a relationship, hasn’t been found to be significant as it pertains to marijuana use and criminal activity. There are other compounding factors which could have affected the incidents of persons being convicted of hard crimes apart from marijuana use.
“This is why research is important. If we consider amending the law or bringing about law reform where we would be able to do good, robust research, we could try to see if there is an association.”
The essence of the discussion, attended by a number of leading Caribbean scientists in the medical field, is that while the general properties of cannabis are known, efforts to scientifically determine its effects in a Barbadian psychosocial setting are restricted.