I remember when marijuana became a drug of choice in Guyana. It was in the 1970s when Rastafari became the chant, Guyanese having recognized this religion that was dominant in Jamaica. Dreadlocks also became fashionable.
Indeed, we Guyanese always take things a bit farther, so the people who gravitated to this way of life began to fashion clothes from discarded material. They were making a statement against society. Policemen became the symbol of oppression, hence the name Babylon. This too was imported from Jamaica.
Pretty soon the country was full of dreadlocked and ragged people wearing clothing fashioned from jute bags. Their diet changed. It was no salt, organic in nature and meatless. Guyanese took things even further; they declined to drink water from the taps choosing instead, creeks and waterways with fresh water.
Mental illness rose dramatically. I am not sure that anyone took seriously, the link between marijuana and mental illness. There were cancers, too.
In 1980 Zimbabwe became independent. Forbes Burnham was an invited guest. On his way back home, Bob Marley and the Wailers shared the flight. Burnham saw how clean the Wailers were with their dreadlocks and muttered that the local police needed to take action against those who professed to be members of the same group as the Wailers.
Today marijuana use is common, not confined to Rastas. It entered schools when some enterprising adults gave the drug to children to sell in the schools. Things reached the stage where the then President Desmond Hoyte decided that something had to be done. In 1988, he introduced the Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances (Control) Act.
This Act was draconian. People were sent to jail for even the smallest amount of any narcotic, marijuana included. For years this law prevailed, but from the look of things it did nothing to slow marijuana use in Guyana. Of course cocaine had made its appearance.
Fast forward to today. Society seems to be upset that people are going to jail for even small amounts of marijuana. There was a modification to the narcotics Act. People stayed out of jail if they had small amounts of jail, but they were still penalized. However, what is considered small is not small enough.
Things went further; some people began to call for a repeal of the Marijuana law. They began to chant “legalise it.” A man was sent to jail for four years for having eight grams of marijuana. The sentence was shocking to many. And a distraught magistrate called in the relatives to explain that she had no choice, that the law was what it is. She said that she gave the man the minimum sentence.
As life goes, marijuana entered the political arena. It featured at the just-concluded Caricom Heads of Government summit in Montego Bay, Jamaica. If there was talk of legalizing the drug, I am not aware, but there was the consensus that people will not go to jail for small quantities of the drug. How small is small I am uncertain.
Marijuana has been dominating the international community. The United States experimented with medical marijuana with astonishing results. People claimed that marijuana was good for glaucoma and there were other ailments that marijuana appeared to ameliorate.
Way back in 1976 I experimented with the drug. It was an interesting experiment. I got so high that I was almost incompetent the first time I used it. Later, I found it a relaxing drug. It made me tremendously hungry and at one stage I said to myself, I preferred marijuana to alcohol.
My experiment was short-lived. I simply walked away because I could not stand being incapacitated for any period, and that is what the drug did for me. However, I suppose other people so loved it that they risked their jobs.
At Kaieteur News, we found marijuana use very pervasive among the technical workers. Glenn Lall noticed how lethargic some of the workers were one day, so evident that he informed them of a drug test the next day. Men sweated; one man got a sample from his brother only to find that he had to present himself in person.
In the end they were all smokers, people addicted to marijuana. Because of the shortage of such skills the company could not fire everyone, but it threatened. Today, I am certain that all of the workers there would test positive once more.
One argument some people use is that a marijuana user is less prone to conduct a criminal act because the drug pacifies him. I am not so sure, but I do know that it impairs learning. Those who say that it enhances reasoning are misguided. But then again, I am no expert.
There are those who say that marijuana is safer than cigarettes; I do not know. What I do know is that its use is widespread; people who use the drug seem to want to smoke it at the drop of a hat.
I also know that it has made people rich. There are huge marijuana farms in Guyana that provide the drug for export. There are motorists who smoke without realizing that the drug impairs their reflexes. It would be interesting to test those who got into accidents and passed the breathalyser test.
I suppose when all is said and done it boils down to what is considered abuse. There have been recreational users who kept things within the confines of their homes. I heard that the police without warrants raided homes and made arrests. They have never raided Rastafari churches.
And as someone pointed out to me, the police are products of the society and many of them smoke. Prison officers will be subjected to drug tests and all manner of things will happen around marijuana. The future beckons.
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