Narco News '02
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From National Public
Radio, Morning Edition
February 5, 2001
BOB EDWARDS, host: In Jamaica, marijuana may soon
be legal. A government commission has recommended decriminalizing
personal use of the plant, known there as ganja. Marijuana use
is endemic on the island; Jamaicans grow, sell and smoke it almost
everywhere. The United States has spent millions of dollars on
eradication efforts and considers the initiative a setback in
the war on drugs. NPR's Gerry Hadden reports from Kingston. (Soundbite
GERRY HADDEN reporting: In downtown Kingston's sprawling
open market, Jamaicans shop for almost anything they need: shoes,
produce, car parts and the ubiquitous ganja plant. Along a tiny
alley called Luke Lane, a young man named Omar(ph) sits by a
stack of long, green stems drooping with buds. Though it's illegal
to sell marijuana, Omar says the police generally leave him alone.
On a good day, he says he earns about 60 US dollars.
OMAR (Jamaican): Weed selling's a normal commodity
business, like any business. You know what I'm saying? But it
depends. Have a good grade of weed, like a high grade of weed,
it don't ...(unintelligible), less than a day. You understand
what I'm saying?
OMAR: So long as people know how good it is, it sells
like food. (Unintelligible) buy it from the fisherman who then
come. So the fish now are gonna stay more than half an hour.
It's great. The crowd that passes, everybody knows how you're
the ...(unintelligible) weed.
HADDEN: Omar hopes the government does legalize ganja
for personal use. But he says it won't really affect his business.
Jamaicans, he says, will always light up, whatever the law. That
was the ultimate conclusion of a government-sponsored national
commission on ganja, headed by University of the West Indies
social sciences professor Barry Chevannes. Chevannes says like
reggae and sunshine, pot-smoking in Jamaica is culturally entrenched.
Professor BARRY CHEVANNES
(University of the West Indies): This is so widespread. If you ask me to get you
a stick of herbs, I would think within three minutes I can get
it for you.
HADDEN: Nevertheless, thousands of people each year do
get arrested for lighting up. Chevannes says it's clogging up
the courts and wasting police time. The ganja commission did
recognize the health risks of smoking marijuana and has recommended
better education for kids on the drug's dangers. But for adults,
it concludes, smoking ganja should not be a crime. Prof.
CHEVANNES: Jamaicans don't use it in quite
the way that Americans do nor do they get the same high out of
it. They use it because they feel that it makes them work harder.
I don't know, in fact, of any people who really use it to get
high. They use it to meditate.
HADDEN: Some even consider it a sacrament. At the House
of Dread Rastafari Community Center(ph) in Kingston, dread-locked
Jamaicans who revere the late Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie
spark up generous bowls of ganja with lung-searing frequency.
(Soundbite of inhaling)
HADDEN: Here in the center's vegetarian restaurant, a
50-year-old Rasta leader named Basil(ph) smokes dope and ladles
out pumpkin soup to visitors. His dreadlocks and beard are pure
white, except for his yellow, smoke-tinged moustache.
(Soundbite of voices)
BASIL: We use it as a burnt offering. That's what herb
is for. And it's for medicational purposes or the medicine is
used for the glaucoma medication made for eyes. It also expand
your mind to achieve.
HADDEN: The United States government sees it differently.
Orna Bloom(ph) is spokeswoman for the US Embassy in Jamaica.
Ms. ORNA BLOOM (Spokeswoman,
US Embassy, Jamaica):
The United States government opposes the decriminalization of
marijuana use because it creates the perception, especially to
our youth, that marijuana is not harmful, which could lead then
to an increase in its use.
HADDEN: Another US concern: Jamaica is a major exporter
of ganja to the United States. Allowing its personal use could
entice local farmers to plant more crops destined for American
streets. Jamaica's ganja commission recommends tougher sanctions
on those who grow for export. Jamaica's prime minister has indicated
he'd like to submit the ganja proposal to parliament for debate,
and both houses are drafting constitutional amendments that could
safeguard the right to smoke pot in private without violating
international drug conventions. Gerry Hadden, NPR News, Kingston,
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