Legalising Cannabis

But legalize we will have to! If we do not wish the country to be overrun like some Caribbean islands by the drugs mafia

Cannabis has been widely used throughout the world for centuries. As far back as 440 BC Heroditus was writing: “The Scythians take some of this hemp-seed and… throw it upon red-hot stones. Immediately it smokes and gives out such a vapour as no Grecian vapour-bath can exceed; the Scyths, delighted, shout for joy.” Then in 1935 the USA introduced restrictive laws for cannabis, effectively rendering the drug illegal worldwide. Exceptions are few and far between.

 Legal

Countries where the B-class drug is legal for medical purposes are (1) Australia (2) Canada (3) Croatia (4) Czech Republic (5) Israel (6) Macedonia (7) Poland, and (8) Puerto Rico.

In Norway, Netherlands and Portugal it is legal to consume small quantities of the drug for recreational purpose. Although not legal, in India it is consumed as part of certain Hindu rites and rituals. Up to the 1970s it was legal in Nepal; hence the Hippie Trail that attracted hordes of Western youngsters to Kathmandu. However the law was changed in 1973 but, just like in India, it is believed consumption continues during certain Hindu rites and rituals.

There are several countries in which it is legal or decriminalized in one form or another. These are (1) Columbia (2) Chile (3) Jamaica (4) Slovenia (5) Spain (6) Uruguay, and at least 8 states in the USA, whilst another 20 have a legalization program in progress. After several years of medical consumption, Canada is legalizing recreational consumption this year.

It is apparent from the above that cannabis production and consumption are not legal in Mauritius. The maximum fine for possession is Rs 100k and a prison term not exceeding 5 years. Consumption carries a maximum fine of Rs 100k a prison term not exceeding 10 years. The law does not differentiate between recreational and medical use.

Medical need

There are a number of chronic medical conditions for which patients need to take strong painkillers on a daily basis to control pain; and corticosteroid and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to lessen pain-inducing inflammation. Any sane person reading the list of side-effects of these allopathic drugs would never take the medication; they are just awesome!

But needs must. The alternative is no alternative at all because no one can live with 24/7 chronic pain and, therefore, is reluctantly reduced to taking at least the minimum dose to gain some relief from the Hell of 24/7 excruciating pain.

The Canadian case

When I heard in 1999 that Canada had legalized medical cannabis, I had this naïve belief that it would not be too long before it would spread to other countries including “enlightened” Mauritius. But we can’t be so lucky. The grapevine has it that some very influential medical men ruling the roost at the Pharmacy Board are against it. Perhaps they lack the empathy that medical school tries to inculcate; or simply forgotten their creed which as one sympathetic MRCP put it “our job first and foremost is to help relieve pain for pain is 24/7 of hellish non-living.”

But we are a long way from civilized Canadian society where patients are treated with humanity. Provided a patient has the authorization of his doctor, he can buy medical cannabis from Health Canada. But in case anyone has any illusion that there is a free for all, producers and prescribing doctors have to be licensed by Canada Health.

At a meeting on 04-Feb-2016 with the Commission of Inquiry on Drug Trafficking (CIDT), Cannabis Legalization and Information Movement (CLAIM) president Fleuriot asked for the re-legalization of cannabis to counter the spread of hard as well as synthetic drugs. He postulated that if a consumer finds cannabis he will not look for heroin, opium or synthetics.

In his response CIDT President, Paul Lam Shang Leen concurred that 60-70 percent of reported crimes are drug related, but he would like to see the results of reliable research on medical cannabis. Presumably to make recommendation to the government in the final CIDT report.

Debate

So far governments of all shades have been totally against relegalization of cannabis while the scourge of hard and synthetic drugs rages on. Many individuals and NGOs like CLAIM are for it, but the twain never seems to meet. It is to be hoped that the CIDT report will encourage debate involving all the stakeholders so as to establish the merits/demerits of legalizing cannabis, medical and otherwise

Space does not allow me to go into a detailed discussion in this paper, but I would expect any serious debate to include the following points.

  1. The (in)effectiveness of prohibition. It has not discouraged cultivation/consumption.
  2. Use for medicinal purpose. A vast number of studies have established that cannabis is effective in treating various diseases and is a safer substitution for allopathic drugs which almost ALWAYS carry some nasty — very nasty – side-effects. Even death!
  3. Cannabis can be easily home grown.
  4. Saving to FOREX on imported allopathic medicines.
  5. Use for recreational purpose. Is it worse than alcohol and cigarettes?
  6. The benefits of cannabis substituting hard and synthetic drugs.
  7. The effect on the black market for these drugs.
  8. The effects on criminality associated with drug trafficking.
  9. The effects on black money emanating from the sale of drugs.
  10. The effects of money laundering, particularly on FOREX.
  11. Implication for law enforcement agencies.
  12. The benefits to the Exchequer — taxes paid by cannabis producers and retailers.
  13. The effects on employment generation by a controlled production and sale.
  14. The biomass derived from cultivation that can be used to produce electricity.
  15. Saving on import of materials to produce electricity.
  16. The safety for users.

I am sure the reader can think of other salient points to consider in the debate. My hope is that medicinal cannabis is legalized without much delay to alleviate unnecessary suffering whilst giving patients an alternative to allopathic drugs. As for recreational use, we could give it a try simultaneously, or go the Canadian way.

But legalize we will have to! If we do not wish the country to be overrun like some Caribbean islands by the drugs mafia. Indeed speed is of the essence, before it’s too late!

 

* Published in print edition on 2 March 2018

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