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Marijuana debate heats up CJ’s call challenged
Chief Justice Ivor Archie did not do enough research when he said the decriminalisation of small amounts of marijuana would be a remedy in alleviating the backlog of court cases. The challenge to Archie is coming from anti-drug crusader Pastor Clive Dottin, psychiatrist, Dr Stafford Pierre and attorney Jawara Mobota.
They dispelled the belief that marijuana was a harmless, even sacred, drug at a “marijuana debate” at the Centre for Drug Prevention Studies at the University of Southern Caribbean (USC), Maracas Valley, St Joseph, on Monday afternoon.
The debate was prompted by Archie’s statement at the opening of the law term last September. Archie said the criminal justice system was in crisis and one urgent remedy was the decriminalisation of possession of small amounts of marijuana. He said drug addiction was a disease and should be treated differently from drug trafficking. “The CJ did not do his homework on the impact of marijuana,” Dottin said.
He quoted Dr Akira Morishima, a leading specialist in cellular heredity, who said in his 20 years of research he never found another drug, including heroin, which came close to the DNA damage caused by marijuana. “Marijuana is not the harmless drug it is made out to be,” Dottin told a large group of students. “There has been an intentional cover-up on marijuana research,” he added.
Quoting global experts, Dottin said marijuana causes many mental disorders, including acute toxic psychosis, panic attacks, flashbacks, delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, depression and uncontrollable hostility. “Marijuana has long been known to trigger attacks of mental illness, such as bipolar psychosis and schizophrenia. Some users would be crying when they are supposed to be laughing and laughing when they are supposed to be crying because of brain damage,” he added.
He said a roadside study of reckless drivers, not believed to be impaired by alcohol, found 45 per cent tested positive for marijuana. Pierre traced the long rehabilitation process of a marijuana user, saying it can be a heartbreaking experience for all involved but said there was hope. He said effective long-term care involved treating the bio-physical cravings and the emotional pain, the root of the addiction.
Instead of taking a moralistic and punitive approach towards marijuana addicts, society should treat them with compassion, he said. Mobota said Archie’s statement about decriminalising small amounts of marijuana was not a call, only a suggestion, and was made in the context of finding a remedy for the “mess at the courts.”
Mobota, who practises criminal law, said it was widely believed East Indian indentured labourers brought marijuana into T&T but noted there was never a problem with it until the 1970s and after the Woodstock Festival, three days of peace and music, in New York in 1969. “For generations it was in the country and was not utilised in that way,” he added.
Mobota said the Twelve Tribes of Israel believed marijuana was sacred, to be used for their development in much the same way some soca songs promote alcohol drinking and promiscuous sex as sources of happiness. “I am telling the brothers, if marijuana is for the healing of the nation, use it in a medicinal way. Don’t smoke it,” he said. The Centre for Drug Prevention Studies was launched under the School of Social Sciences at USC in January 2013 and focuses on research, demand reduction and community outreach.
Director Imo Bakari said the centre had started outreach programmes in the communities of Bangladesh and La Seiva, St Joseph.