Concerns for Increased Usage of Marijuana after Law Reform
(From Report of the CARICOM Regional Commission on Marijuana 2018)
Some concerns have been raised that legalization of marijuana could suggest the harmlessness of the substance or decrease perceptions of risks, which may lead to increased consumption. The Commission has already seen evidence of some of these adverse consequences, such as the increasing usage by children and the advent on the market of extremely potent strains of cannabis/ marijuana in terms of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels, which did not exist before. Given that these have emerged within the harsh, legal regime of prohibition, the Commission understands that reformed laws must better address such paradigms. It is important to note, however, that the Commission does not predicate law reform initiatives on a value judgement that cannabis/ marijuana is a substance without any adverse effects whatsoever. Like many other substances, it should be acknowledged that cannabis/ marijuana may have adverse effects, particularly if abused. A pragmatic and proactive move toward law reform should not, therefore, be translated to mean a 'glamourising' of the substance. Care should be taken to put regulatory controls in place to prevent abuses and the most adverse consequences. This may also involve mechanisms to encourage responsible use, which may mean, in general, to dampen enthusiasm for its recreational use. Moving away from prohibition does not necessarily mean a laissez-faire approach to cannabis/ marijuana or carte blanche encouragement for usage.
Significantly, the data from countries that have either decriminalised or legalised cannabis/ marijuana is that there is no statistically significant increase in usage as a result. This is the experience, e.g. in Canada.
More recently, information from Jamaica, which decriminalised cannabis in 2015, confirms this finding. There is evidence of an initial increase immediately after law reform, what may be termed the 'experimental factor', but these figures balance out over time. The Commission is therefore satisfied that, except for medical purposes, the fears that law reform will cause a floodgate movement toward cannabis/ marijuana use is unfounded, particularly if law reform is undertaken with the appropriate educational and marketing programs in place.
Changing Attitudes toward Cannabis/ Marijuana
There is clear evidence that attitudes toward cannabis/ marijuana in the region are changing, a situation which corresponds to changing attitudes globally toward law reform. Increasingly, this is leading to calls for legal reform to move away from the harsh, prohibitive stance of a legal regime supported by criminal sanctions. This may be by way of removing criminal penalties and replacing with civil penalties or other interventions, termed decriminalisation, or removing sanctions and penalties altogether, that is, legalisation, although certain regulatory controls may still be maintained.
The finding from the public consultations, the national focus groups that the Commission engaged with and the stakeholder submissions received, as well as empirical data gathered, is that the overwhelming majority of opinion is toward law reform, at least the removal of criminal penalties. Notably, some contributors did not make legal distinctions between decriminalisation and legalisation, simply wanting prohibition to be removed.
Statistical data gathered over the period also confirms this public viewpoint. Surveys done in five CARICOM countries by the well-known Caribbean Development Research Services Inc. (CADRES), reveal considerable shifting in public attitudes toward some form of law reform away from prohibition.