On the larger stage, the U.S. is still trying to understand the various highs and lows being caused by liberalization of marijuana laws, most notably the legalization of ganja in Colorado and Washington state. While most of us here in the Cayman Islands were celebrating Easter, tens (possibly hundreds) of thousands of people flocked to Colorado to participate in massive “420” parties — the unofficial holiday for all things ganja-related, occurring on April 20 each year.
Researchers are in the process of trying to sort out whether legalizing ganja will result in a financial boom from “marijuana tourism,” or if any gains will be more than offset by negative consequences, such as increased drug use, secondhand annoyance or opportunistic criminal activity.
Because of marijuana’s long-standing contraband status in most first-world countries, we don’t know nearly as much about the potential positive and negative effects of the substance as we know about tobacco and alcohol. Paradoxically, marijuana also hasn’t been studied as intently as “harder” drugs such as cocaine and opiates.
Based on what scientists have been able to report, it seems that using marijuana by itself is safer than the legal drugs, tobacco and alcohol, and is far safer than illegal drugs or commonly abused prescription medications. However, marijuana is far from being completely benign, and its negative effects are greatly enhanced when used in combination with alcohol by adolescents whose brains are still developing.
That’s probably the wrong debate anyway.
The reality is that any examination of legalizing (or liberalizing) any form of drug use in Cayman should go beyond its scientific effects (positive or negative) on the human body. We must also ask ourselves what behavior, or image, do we want to encourage in the Cayman Islands?
Cayman is religiously and culturally conservative (no gambling, little shopping on Sundays) and disproportionately dependent on tourism and foreign investment for our economic sustenance. In other words, the optics of any liberalization of our drug laws are of great, even compelling, consequence.
A few of our neighbors and competitors aren’t as circumspect as we are. For example, in Jamaica, the National Council on Drug Abuse has announced its support for plans to decriminalize ganja, and the country’s Opposition Leader has said voters should be allowed to decide the issue. In Bermuda, Cabinet lawmakers are considering relaxing the territory’s ganja laws, potentially starting with medical marijuana.
With Bermuda’s economy already in a free fall and Jamaica’s image dominated by images of ganja and gangsterism, we have to question the wisdom of their officially embracing any form of the drug culture.
The Editorial Board of the Compass is far more cautious: Let Colorado, Bermuda and Jamaica leap if they wish. For now, we advise looking on as wary followers, rather than as foolhardy leaders.