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Archbishop Jason Gordon.

RADHICA DE SILVA

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Marijuana is not a harmless drug but rather a gateway to criminalism, alcoholism and addiction.

So said Archbishop Jason Gordon during a virtual marijuana symposium hosted by the Catholic Commission for Social Justice yesterday.

Gordon, who admitted to carrying people to mental health institutions for marijuana psychosis said the government had created confusion when it “partially legalised” marijuana by the passage of the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act, 2019 which decriminalizes possession of fewer than 30 grams.

The new law also implements tiered penalties for possession of 30–60 grams (1.1–2.1 oz) and allows the cultivation of up to four plants per adult.

But Gordon said this move had serious consequences for family life.

“In my pastoral work, a visible change in personality occurs with marijuana use. The motivation to excel decreases dramatically. Those with a higher IQ loses focus and marijuana becomes an obsession so much so that it erodes a person’s personality and they slip into criminal activity to support their habit,” he said, adding “the use of marijuana especially affects children and teens.”

Quoting a study done by Bucknell University Professor Judith Grisel, a behavioural neuroscientist with a particular interest in addiction, Gordon said heavy smokers show a reduction in brain activity and 67 per cent of people were less likely to graduate from high school.

He said medical marijuana was being used as a Trojan Horse to get people to accept the legalisation of the herb but one must always be mindful of the risks involved. He proposed that medicinal marijuana be grown through a license and utilized carefully so that it does not come onto the open market.

He also called for the development of counselling centres as well as the establishment of drug courts.

Meanwhile, independent Senator and Attorney John Health said the amendments to the Act omitted several important information as there were many grey areas.

“I did not see mandatory testing or labour laws for people getting into the industry. Our legislation is not specific as to the age of the persons allowed to grow marijuana,” Heath said.

He also said the Act restricts the use of marijuana publicly or near schools but omits any exceptions for people who live near schools and may want to grow marijuana.

Dr Christine Decartes who spoke about marijuana and risk-taking behaviours said there will be an increase in road accidents and fatalities because of the increased use of recreational marijuana.

Decartes said marijuana impacts on individuals’ ability to engage in risky behaviour.

“It is detrimental to our children. If children are future leaders will we want them to have poor decision-making? As a society, we have to care,” she said.

She noted that marijuana is linked with delinquency.

“Marijuana is a gateway drug and it leads you to go on to develop substance abuse disorders. The majority of people who smoke marijuana are treated for substance abuse and risky sexual behaviours and multiple sexual partners,” she said.

However, General Secretary Glenroy of All Mansions of Rastafari Glenroy “Bongo Grease” Halls said Rastas have been using marijuana for generations. He said however that THC, the main psychoactive compound in marijuana that gives the high sensation, can only be triggered if the herb is burnt. He said people can benefit from the full use of the plant without burning it. He called for a full educational campaign to be rolled out on marijuana use and commended the organisers for hosting the conference.

However, reformed drug addict and entertainer Errol Fabien said he was concerned that the existing laws had failed to protect children from second-hand marijuana smoke.

“People are not allowed to smoke marijuana outside their home. My concern is about the legal use of marijuana in the home when there are minors and babies in the same home. When you are using it the smoke moves through the house does the law protect minors,” Fabien asked. Heath said no.

Assessment manager of the Children’s Authority Vandana Siew Sankar-Ali agreed that T&T must look at the repercussions of having the substance in the home. She said marijuana users who have children should exercise caution as it was illegal to have marijuana near children.