Caribbean Islands Look at Decriminalisation of Marijuana

Chief Justice Ivor Archie, of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, has recently suggested that the use of marijuana is small quantities should be decriminalised. His suggestion has been met with both support and condemnation from island residents, responses similar to the same debate in the U.S. The suggestion was made in an attempt to minimize the negative effects of treating as criminals a great many people who would otherwise be considered solid citizens and who are guilty of harming no one but themselves. There is also a growing concern over the cost to taxpayers and society of the “war on drugs” against a substance that clearly does not create the serious health conditions and damage to society that many other illegal substances do. Many people consider marijuana to be classified in the same category as a controlled substance, such as alcohol or tobacco and question why it is still criminalised.

In terms of cost, decriminalisation makes the most sense. The Economist, an internationally published magazine, recognizes the production, distribution and sale of illicit substances as one of the world’s major industries, comparable to big oil and the automotive industry. Success of the “war on drugs” is measured by the rise and fall of street prices of New York City. Drug prices have held steady over the decades, in spite of millions of dollars spent in the “war” against them. Decriminalisation of marijuana would cut those costs dramatically, though it is only one of many ilicit substances in question. Regulation and taxation of the substance could also bring in some much needed revenue to counter the expense of continuing the war against other illicit substances.

One last point to be made: it is important to remember that decriminalisation is NOT the same as approval. Once can disapprove of the consumption of alcohol without supporting prohibition, and one can disapprove of the use of tobacco without supporting its criminalisation. Similarly, marijuana can be decriminalised while still educating citizens about the potentially damaging effects its usage can have on the human body.

Smokeless Tobacco is on the Rise Among Youth

A new study from Harvard School of Public Health indicates that about 5% of American students from grades 6-12 are using smokeless tobacco products. 72% of youths reported that they had used cigarettes or cigars. This seems amazing in light of the public service announcements, public awareness materials, and prevention/intervention efforts that have gone on in the past few decades to help steer kids clear of tobacco and alcohol usage. We have to question why the efforts are failing:

– are the announcements and materials poorly written or ineffective?

– are the materials targeting the wrong audience?

– are the materials not reaching the intended audience?

– are the materials in an old format that is “out of touch” with today’s youth?

The recent increase in the use of smokeless tobacco presents another quandary. Why is this substance’s abuse increasing, though there has been little significant change in advertising or availability? Researchers say that peer pressure was the likely cause for the tobacco use. Coupled with a false sense of security, that makes sense. In general, previous studies have shown that kids believe that smokeless tobacco is less harmful than products that are smoked, such as cigarettes and cigars. The truth though is that many of the same toxic carcinogens exist in both smokeless and smoked tobacco products. The same addictive chemical, nicotine, exists in all products in equal measure. Instead of the lung cancer that is commonly seen in tobacco smokers, users of smokeless tobacco typically develop throat or lip cancer. And both forms of tobacco create dirty, smelly mouths, gums, and teeth.

Harvard researchers recommend more effective warning labels on tobacco products but, honestly, who reads the labels? Rarely the people using the products which they know are bad for them. They don’t want to hear/read that when they are getting ready to indulge. Possibly a campaign on social media- a place where a large number of teens hang out regularly- would be more effective. With pictures!

Your turn: What do you think about the statistics cited in Harvard’s study? Do you think they accurately reflect what’s happening with today’s youth? Have you seen evidence of this trend in your neighborhood? What might be done to turn it around and keep our kids safer from peer pressure and drug abuse?