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Marijuana debate should maintain a constructive character

Marijuana debate should maintain a constructive character

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It has been a long time since any proposed piece of legislation has generated as much public interest and debate as that currently raging over three pieces of proposed legislation – the Medicinal Cannabis Industry Bill, The Cannabis Cultivation (Amnesty) Bill and the Permitted Use of Cannabis for Religious Purpose Bill.

Not since the debate and discussion over constitutional reform (2005-2009) have we witnessed such wide participation in discussing a bill before Parliament. This augurs well for public discourse but it also reveals the extent to which the topic and the marijuana issue in general is rooted in our society.

The marijuana bills are currently before a Select Committee of the House of Assembly but public consultations are proceeding and, based on responses, generating much interest. The level of public debate on the topic is both healthy and educational. Of course there are some, as usual, who, rather than engage constructively, tend to distort for their own selfish reasons.

These aside though, a number of important issues have surfaced in the course of the public debate. One outstanding matter seems to be the debate over which should be the preferred and more feasible course of action, and more economically beneficial to the society, the sale of recreational weed or emphasis on the export of marijuana derivatives for medicinal purposes.

This issue also raises an important related subject, that of the conditions under which the proposed medicinal marijuana should be grown and what strains/varieties should be grown for these purposes. Given international trade of today, any export industry has to fit into legal and trading regulations, and this too has generated hot debate.

Related to this aspect of the debate is the role and place of traditional growers of marijuana who have long faced persecution at the hands of the law and praedial larceny given the illegal nature of the trade. How can the proposed legislation be framed to ensure that a “piece of the action” is reserved for such persons and that the benefits do not accrue entirely to big investors, local and foreign? That is in itself another major challenge.

Then there is the interpretation of the proposed Amnesty Bill. Over the years, many young men in particular, have been killed in the hills or on the high seas, hauled before the courts, fined, jailed and accumulated police records for their involvement either in the illegal trade or for simply smoking marijuana. This also touches on the burning issue of whether ganja should be decriminalized, again a hot topic. There are strong views concerning this, some arising from concerns over potential negative effects on juveniles and the vulnerable. The Christian Council has itself expressed its views on the subject.

These are but some of the ramifications arising from proposed legislation on this socially challenging legislation. It is to be hoped that the debate will maintain a constructive character and that citizens will place the national interests above personal or politically-partisan ones and so contribute positively to the drafting of legislation which is balanced, rational and for the good of not only stakeholders but the society as a whole.

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