The route to legalisation of ganja

Louis Moyston, PhD

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Print this page Email A Friend!

The issue of legalisation of ganja has become a popular issue in the global discourse on drugs since the pioneering role of countries such as Uruguay and Canada led the way regarding the legalisation of ganja for medicinal and recreational purposes. However, the road to legalisation is not as easy for everyone.

While some countries can withdraw from the international treaties, others will have to creatively operate within the international treaties and lobby with “like-minded” nation states to reform the international treaties. As it relates to Jamaica, the legalisation lobbying must take place beyond the national borders, with the Jamaican Government and national civil society groups petitioning other national governments as well as promoting the calls for the reform or transformation of the international treaties to respond to the objective realities of the 21st century.

The foundations of the present international treaties (1912-14 and 1924 and 1925) emerged at a time when there was no scientific knowledge of the effect of cannabis. The succeeding Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 as amended by the 1972 Protocol, the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971 and the United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988 failed to cut worldwide production of drugs. There is, of course, widespread activities in decriminalisation and legalisation in North America, South and Central America, the Caribbean and Europe.

The struggle for legalisation has to do with more than ganja. It has to do also with racial and social and political struggles. The approaches to legalisation activities must be grounded in this framework. This article embraces and firmly supports the calls for reform of the Single Convention Treaty on Dangerous Drugs, with emphasis on removing cannabis from schedules I and IV, thereby legalising cannabis. It calls for reform to the 1961 Single Convention in terms of cannabis scheduling, thereby making cannabis legal.

The international conventions constitute a “two-tiered system that regulates synthetic drugs and prohibits the organic substances produced by the South”. They force developing countries to abolish all non-medical and non-scientific uses of the plants that for centuries had been embedded in historical, social, cultural, and religious traditions. “The treaties were negotiated and adopted in an era when both illicit market and understanding of its operation bore little resemblance to those of today.” However, there is “growing and much-needed attention... being devoted to the legal technicalities of treaty revisions”. The focus includes human rights and the historical and traditional relationships between cannabis and some traditional societies.

There is also the opinion that the international regime for the control of psychoactive substances is defined beyond any moral qualities; it is characterised by racism. This is reflected in the geopolitics of North-South relations in the 20th century. The strictest controls were placed on organic substances — the coca bush, the poppy and the cannabis plant — which often form part of the ancestral traditions of the countries where these plants originate, whereas the North's cultural products, tobacco and alcohol, were ignored and the synthetic substances produced by the North's pharmaceutical industry subject to regulation rather than prohibition.

It is noted that, at the insistence of the United States, it is the personal opinion of representative Pablo Osvaldo Wolf's on the drug that made cannabis a dangerous. There is a view that the inclusion of cannabis in schedule IV, a group of drugs “reserved for substances that have particularly dangerous properties and lack therapeutic values” is a classification that is not true anymore in the 21st century. Accordingly, this special class of drugs in schedule IV exhibits strong addiction quality-producing properties — a high liability of abuse that cannot be offset by medical benefits or that poses too great a risk to public health to hazard using them commonly in medical practice.

Drugs in this category remain subject to the same international controls that are applicable to schedule I drugs, but governments are encouraged to limit their legitimate use. Cannabis, cannabis resin, and heroin (diamorphine) are examples of schedule IV drugs. Several medical experts have questioned the appropriateness of limiting the use of diamorphine for pain control and a number of governments permit this use. To place a drug in schedules II and III governments must control the factories at which these drugs are manufactured, as well as the individuals involved in their manufacture, trade, distribution, and import or export. Records of the manufacture and sale of these drugs must be maintained, and limits must be imposed to ensure that they are used exclusively for medical and scientific purposes. The role of the State in areas were the fallacy of the ideas of the international regimes and private sector-led initiatives for national development will be hindered to take this route. The political justification of the position for the challenging of the international treaties led to the calls for changes in the international drug treaties which preceded three important observations of the international treaties. Firstly, there is a major problem regarding definitions: “The terms drugs, narcotics and psychotropics are not defined in any way except as lists of products included in the schedule.” Second, the arbitrary and inconsistent nature of classification is another point of concern. And, thirdly, cannabis is included along with heroin and cocaine in schedules I and IV of the 1961 Single Convention, with carries the most stringent controls. The concerns about the dangers of drugs and public health are not consistent regarding the use of alcohol and tobacco as these are not controlled substances.

There is common cause between nations in the South and those in the North regarding medicinal use of marijuana, and there are also those nations that have opted out of the Single Convention, and those that have decriminalised cannabis within the context of the Single Convention. Far and wide there have been calls for legalisation of cannabis. In some areas these calls are grounded in the failure of the “convention of suppression” or simply the war against drugs.

The rules of the international treaties are not written in stone. The 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties allows for the option to modify treaties. This can be done on the conference floor at the UN General Assembly or by individual countries opting out of or creatively change domestic law within the framework of the Single Convention. Uruguay in 2010 and Canada, a member of the G7 group, legalised cannabis for both recreational and medicinal use in 2018. This inspired nations across the world, developed and underdeveloped, to consider drastic changes in their drug laws to cash in on the current cash-rich medical and recreational marijuana market, both nationally and internationally.

Take the 1988 Convention, for example, it forces countries in the South to apply excessive police and military pressure on their own people. The World Health Organization (WHO) is responsible for making recommendations regarding the scheduling of drugs. In evaluating the schedule of a drug WHO considers the “degree of liability to abuse” of a substance and the “risk to public health and social welfare” that the substance in question poses or might pose. There is the need for regional, Commonwealth, and like-minded nations to campaign for legalisation in the national and global spheres. In the past, the initiatives against drugs were led by the United States, but today it is the supranational body, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime that leads the struggle to maintain the status quo in the international drug regime. When, then, will the hold be loosened?

Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at




1. We welcome reader comments on the top stories of the day. Some comments may be republished on the website or in the newspaper � email addresses will not be published.

2. Please understand that comments are moderated and it is not always possible to publish all that have been submitted. We will, however, try to publish comments that are representative of all received.

3. We ask that comments are civil and free of libellous or hateful material. Also please stick to the topic under discussion.

4. Please do not write in block capitals since this makes your comment hard to read.

5. Please don't use the comments to advertise. However, our advertising department can be more than accommodating if emailed:

6. If readers wish to report offensive comments, suggest a correction or share a story then please email:

7. Lastly, read our Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy

comments powered by Disqus



Today's Cartoon

Click image to view full size editorial cartoon