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What messages are our youths receiving about marijuana?

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A few weeks ago, as he was sentencing a 17-year-old at the Georgetown Magistrate’s Court, magistrate Rickie Burnett made an interesting observation.

The learned magistrate asked could it be possible that, based on the ongoing discussions about ‘medicinal marijuana,’ our young people are being influenced to smoke it? Could it be that our boys and girls are interpreting the term ‘medicinal marijuana’ to mean that smoking marijuana is harmless, or perhaps even good for them? Surely, if something is to be used as a medicine, how could using it be harmful?

Magistrate Burnett was reportedly moved to ask the question, based on the increasing numbers of teens, mostly secondary school drop-outs, who had been appearing before him, charged with marijuana related offences or who were habitual users of the drug.

Implied in the magistrate’s question was a call for those leading the discussion on ‘medicinal marijuana’ and the decriminalization of possession of small quantities of the drug, to be more careful with their public pronouncements; and we agree.

In most cases, sufficient care is not being taken to make clear what is being considered for St Vincent and the Grenadines when we speak about legalization of ‘medicinal marijuana’. Are we considering making legal the isolation and extraction of certain chemical components of cannabis to be used in the manufacture of medicines? Will we give consideration to legally authorizing doctors to be able to prescribe a spliff or two to their patients? If so, in what circumstances and how will this be regulated?

The messages we send must be clear and unambiguous, failing which, the message that is received may potentially lead a young mind astray.

There is also concern among the medical profession about the discussion we are having. Last week, public health specialist Dr Rosmond Adams, in his column ‘Health Wise’ in the Midweek SEARCHLIGHT, noted that despite a worrying increase in the numbers of people needing treatment for marijuana use disorders and associated health conditions, there is this movement towards the legalization of marijuana for medical use, based on the belief that the substance has beneficial medical effects. Dr Adams called for a restart of the debate on ‘medicinal marijuana’ and for there to be an examination of the legal, ethical, medical, social and religious issues involving medical use of marijuana in the Caribbean context, where marijuana remains an illegal drug.

And Dr Cecil Cyrus, arguably this country’s most respected medical practitioner, again made the point in his recently published book, “A Harvest Richer Than Gold,” that there are those in our society who “unwittingly or otherwise” encourage the smoking of marijuana by their assertions. His memoir gives several examples, from his over 50 years of experience, of lives which were destroyed by what he calls “this heinous indulgence,” and he reminds us that a look inside our mental hospital will tell the tale of the number of young psychotics who have fallen victim to the drug.

The concern we are expressing does not in any way mean that as a country, we must not position ourselves to exploit the medical marijuana industry. At the same time, we cannot forget that the drug is still illegal in most countries of the world and for good reason. Dr Cyrus describes the mental effects in his book. They include loss of memory, mental dulling, emotional blunting, loss of drive, apathy, impaired judgement, reduced physical activity and mutism and may progress to frank psychosis or madness. This message must not be buried or diluted.

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