Marijuana (or cannabis, or “ganja” as it’s generally known in Jamaica) is a complex and many-layered issue on the island. No, actually most of us do not all sit around under a palm tree puffing on a spliff all day, as many foreigners seem to think. As I am often mistaken for a tourist when we visit Negril, I am repeatedly offered the weed – whether to smoke, perhaps some cookies, and – perhaps something stronger? As usual, Jamaican stereotypes are reinforced through tourism, often to an extreme degree.
But in the real world in Jamaica – not the pretty little “let’s get high” world envisioned by the foreign tourist – ganja is a real social issue. We often talk about young men standing on the corner, “rubbing their hand miggle” as they prepare weed to put into a spliff. This is a common sight, whether in what we call “underserved” communities in urban spaces, or under a tree out in the country somewhere. When we used to take our son to school, we passed young men working on their first spliff of the morning, every single day. Most of those young men would have nothing else to do that day – or the day after, or the day after that. And yet, Jamaicans do still believe it is a “part of our culture,” especially in relation to the Rastafari – and that is that. Or if you prefer, “It is what it is.”
Meanwhile, in the uptown world, fancy establishments have popped up. They are called “herb houses” (I think) and they are owned by businessmen looking to make an extra buck. The one down the road from where we live seems to be a popular party venue (at least, until COVID-19 curfews started to bite). I suppose if one wanted one could go there for a cup of coffee. However, it might be “ganja-infused.” So, no thanks.
Then there are the small ganja farmers, who apparently are being sidelined by…whom? To be honest, I don’t understand the economics of it, although Jamaicans seem to be perpetually irritated by the fact that in Colorado, USA, and a number of other states, ganja is really big business. It is as if the Americans have usurped our rightful place as the Original Home of Ganja. Why aren’t we making millions out of the weed? I am not sure I have really grasped what the Jamaican Government is trying to do, in terms of regulation, either. However, large quantities of the stuff (especially in the export/import trade) are definitely still illegal here.
So, I found this carefully worded press release from the Ministry of Health and Wellness quite interesting. I think they are trying to gently tell us that ganja can, in fact, be harmful to one’s health. Some local psychiatrists would agree – and this is particularly true for our vulnerable teenagers. I know of at least a couple of very sad cases. However, this is not talked about much at all, and the National Council on Drug Abuse has been rather quiet for quite a long time.
I will be interested to see what impact this campaign, which was launched a few weeks ago, will have locally. I heard the jingle on the radio for the first time today, and it is definitely catchy. Let’s see how it goes. By the way, I cannot find the website link.
NCDA urges ‘Good Ganja Sense’
- Campaign jingle and educational material roll-out
KINGSTON, JAMAICA, Monday, April 19, 2021: On Tuesday, April 20, 2021, some Jamaican citizens and residents will be joining in the “4-20” celebration of ganja across the globe. Recognising the significance that this day has taken on globally and locally, the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA) calls for Jamaican nationals and residents to continue to exercise good ganja sense.
Ganja has had tremendous social and cultural significance to Jamaica and Jamaicans, becoming an integral element of the country’s folkways since its introduction to the island by Indian indentured servants and its adoption by emancipated Africans in the 19th century. The NCDA urges Jamaicans to build on and enhance folk knowledge of the plant by now embracing science-based approaches to its use. These include research activities that drive industrial and medical applications of the plant with spinoffs for commercial-scale farming.
In recent years there have been many promising studies on ganja, some of which have revealed that it contains a variety of compounds with potentially beneficial uses. These, however, must be explored within the context of rigorous scientific studies to determine potential benefits or harms, and provide the information necessary to maximise the former and minimise the latter.
In this regard, the NCDA is pleased with the continued work being undertaken by local research institutions on the plant and its derivatives, and encourages even more initiatives in that direction. In particular, the Council joins Minister with responsibility for gender, the Hon. Olivia Grange, who at its March 16 ‘Women in Ganja’ virtual forum called for more research on the use of ganja derivatives in the treatment of gynaecological conditions.
Caution against Recreational Ganja Use
Yet, even as the Council supports the development of a robust regulated cannabis industry for Jamaica, it continues to be concerned about the challenges posed by recreational use of the plant. The decriminalisation of possession of small quantities of ganja should not be interpreted to mean that recreational use of the plant has no negative consequences. On the contrary, this is especially the case where this use involves adolescents and those most vulnerable to its harmful effects. The Council therefore cautions against recreational use of the plant, especially among these groups.
Research into the effects of recreational use of the plant on the brain as well as on behaviour continues. The NCDA commits to helping to disseminate new research findings in this regard, and to help the country to make the most productive use of the plant.
This is one of the main objectives of the Council’s Good Ganja Sense Campaign, launched last month by State Minister of Health and Wellness, Mrs. Juliet Cuthbert-Flynn. The campaign jingle urging good ganja sense was released today and can be found on YouTube as well as on the Good Ganja Sense website.