The National Council on Substance Abuse (NCSA) supports the request from the Head of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI), Anthony Brancker, for serious discussion on establishing a recreational marijuana sector in search of economic drivers.
However, the NCSA postulates for a carefully crafted approach to the recreational use of marijuana as a driver of economic growth.
The NCSA is aware of some notable achievements on the therapeutic value of marijuana, the traditional name of Cannabis Sativa, to health, including the United Nations (UN) recent reclassification of marijuana in a schedule of less harmful drugs.
Despite these achievements, a significant body of literature shows that the persistent smoking of marijuana leads to adverse health consequences and trigger the onset of mental disorders in vulnerable individuals, depending on the dose, frequency, and earliness of use. Also, evidence exists that some individuals may develop dependence.
Recognising that marijuana is less harmful than other dangerous drugs indicates that the recreational use of marijuana would increase its availability and normalise its use leading to adverse health consequences, particularly among young people.
In Barbados, although adolescent females also consume marijuana, recent data indicates a continuous trend in the consumption of marijuana among young males under 20 years of age.
Considerations on marijuana should, therefore, attempt to balance the costs of producing and distributing marijuana with the social costs of the possible increased consumption of marijuana, particularly among minors and adolescents.
Moreover, the increased emphasis on expanding the marijuana crop may also determine how distributors market and advertise marijuana among minors and adolescents.
Therefore, drug prevention and educational institutions play a crucial role in crafting new drug prevention messages and programmes with particular attention to children and adolescents. Drug prevention initiatives should also include efforts to reduce the harms linked to drug use, such as regulating the potency and purity of marijuana.
Discussions on the economic benefits of marijuana should attempt to balance the potential profits from the cultivation and sale of marijuana with the type of prevention programmes consistent with deterring marijuana consumption, particularly among minors and adolescents.
For example, legalising marijuana may lead to advertising and marketing strategies that unintentionally increase the recreational use of marijuana among children and adolescents.
In this regard, the NCSA has initiated a series of drug prevention initiatives focusing on the harms of drug use, and differences between recreational and medical marijuana, targeting primary and secondary school students, parents, Guidance Counsellors, and faith-based organisations.
Finally, discussions on marijuana tend to neglect the structural causes of illicit drug selling and instead present issues through a narrow law and order and economic discourse.
There is a need for further research into the structural causes of the impact of drug use on the individual, institutions, and society. The NCSA’s research plan recognises the importance of the link between drug use and the social structure and has embarked on several collaborative projects with local, regional, and international organisations.
These projects focus on the psychological and social characteristics of individuals seeking treatment and Early Warning Systems, which address the emergence of new and dangerous drugs in Barbados, including new strains of cannabis and synthetic drugs.
Though substantial evidence of psychological issues linked to the chronic consumption of marijuana exists, recent developments in the international community have allowed for the greater exploration of the medical value of marijuana. As such, Barbados should pursue an agenda towards balancing the economic benefits of marijuana with potential social costs.
Within this context of economic growth and social costs, the NCSA encourages debate on the recreational consumption of marijuana.
NCSA recommends the following to facilitate discussion:
- A careful balance of the potential economic benefits from the cultivation, production, and export of marijuana with the social costs of increased marijuana consumption, particularly among minors and adolescents.
- Build on efforts currently pursued by NCSA in developing new or modifying existing drug prevention and education programmes focusing on the harms of drug use.
- Developing a regulatory framework for the advertising and marketing of recreational marijuana.
- Regulating the potency of marijuana or marijuana products by imposing a maximum THC concentration, a minimum Cannabidiol (CBD) concentration, or a THC: CBD ratio below a certain threshold (CDD a derivative from marijuana linked to reducing anxiety and has antipsychotic properties).
- Providing information on additives and concentrates on product labels. For example, the infusion of marijuana products with alcohol or nicotine.
- Promoting a more robust understanding of the benefits but also the adverse effects of marijuana in the media and public.
- Identify specific medical conditions applicable to prescription marijuana and protect the rights of prescription marijuana users and the rights of employers to dismiss workers for accidents in the workplace because of an employee’s current marijuana use.
- Exploring broader workplace regulations governing drug testing.
- Promote further research on the structural reasons for marijuana use and its trafficking.