The opposition PPP leader said The Gambia should take cue from countries like The Netherlands where the drug has been legalised. His comments came less than a year after a veteran Jamaican reggae singer and ‘riddim’ poet, Mutabaruka, made a similar plea to Gambian authorities on a visit to the country.
“If Kanna [palm wine] is being sold openly in the market and it is more dangerous than Cannabis, why should we destroy our youths for smoking pot?” OJ queried in an interview with The Standard.
He added: “I am strongly against sending people to prison for smoking Cannabis. Fortunately, there was a meeting recently by three former heads of state and the former secretary general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan and they were talking about how to resolve this cannabis issue. I am strongly against detaining and sending young people to prison because they are caught with a small quantity of Cannabis. I was shocked one day when I was in Mile 2 and people were coming with their basins to serve us some porridge. I saw two young kids and I asked them what their ages were. One was 17 and the other was 18 and they were there because of Marijuana. I could not understand arresting a young person of 17 or 18 for smoking that small quantity of pot and put him together with hardened criminals in a high security prison. Whisky and Gin are also sold freely in the market and these are intoxicants that destroy the intestine, kidney, and liver. Cigarette also causes lung cancer and it is killing people and we are selling it here.
“The question to ask is why a good number of countries in the world have now started legalising cannabis? They have seen no sense in jailing young people for it. Most drugs we are using have opium and that is not being talked about. I think the government should re-think its policy on the eradication of cannabis.”
The PPP leader however said that the authorities should put in place proper mechanisms, prior to the legalisation, for effective control. He noted that the countries that have legalised Cannabis have seen a 50 percent decline in its consumption.
“Of course, the legalisation has to also go with control like it happened in some states in America and other places in South America. You can control it and the secret is that the moment you legalise it and control the trade, like in Amsterdam, consumption goes down.
“All the countries that have adopted this measure have seen Cannabis consumption go down by 50 percent and we are here busy putting our young people in prison. Cannabis should be legalised and controlled.”
The Gambia last year lessened the penalties for people found guilty of possessing and trafficking cannabis in a bid ‘to decongest the prison’. The previous law imposed a fine of D250, 000 or a three-year jail term while under the new law, anyone found in possession of 0.1 grams and 150 grams of cannabis is liable to a fine of not less than D50,000 and not exceeding D100, 000 or imprisonment for a term not less than six months but not exceeding one year.
Meanwhile, experts have disclosed that about 27, 000 people have mental disorder in The Gambia and it is estimated that half of that number have been caused by the use of cannabis.]]>