“The use of cannabis extracts and tinctures of cannabis for medical or therapeutic purposes, where prescribed by a medical doctor licensed in accordance with the Health Practice Law (2017 Revision) as part of a course of treatment for a person under that medical doctor’s care, is lawful.”
— Misuse of Drugs Law (2017 Revision)
Despite the brevity of the Cayman Islands’ medical marijuana legislation, the short paragraph above, passed into law last year, has set off a chain reaction of “side effects” on a broad scale.
Just this week, the law’s shortcomings were exposed in the courtroom of Magistrate Valdis Foldats, who grappled with the question of what to do about a defendant, who had been found guilty of possessing ganja illegally (before the medical marijuana law went into effect), but who at his sentencing hearing produced a medical doctor’s prescription for cannabis oil.
That prescription neutralized the court’s usual remedy for first-time ganja possession offenders, involving probation and regular drug testing, because a drug test cannot differentiate between the presence of illegal ganja and legal cannabis oil.
That’s just one of the blind spots in the law, which sped through the legislature at an expedited pace and was aimed narrowly at a small group of people who have exhausted conventional treatments for serious health conditions. (On a tangent: What about foreign tourists who have doctors’ prescriptions for medical marijuana? Can they not bring their “medicine” with them? Can they fill their prescription at the local pharmacy?)
One of the biggest issues has been uncertainty around the import, supply and distribution of the legalized “extracts and tinctures.” A handful of profit-sensing “ganjapreneurs” have jumped right into the uncertain “gray market” in hopes of emerging at the head of the pack when rules and regulations come into focus.
For the record, we are wary of the legalization of medical cannabis in general and have expressed serious concerns about Cayman’s particular legislation since its inception. In regard to the “medical” part of the concept – there exists very little peer-reviewed scientific literature demonstrating the salutary effects of the drug, except for a few specific conditions (such as weight loss in AIDS patients, nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, and pediatric epilepsy).
As for the “cannabis” part of the equation, we strongly suspect that many of the people advocating for the legalization of medical cannabis are using that cause as a stepping stone (or “smokescreen”) for the outright legalization of cannabis.
The last thing our society needs is more drugs on the street. In addition to the potential harm to public health, we are concerned that moving toward the legalization of ganja clashes with Cayman’s well-fostered reputation of being a socially conservative and family friendly destination, and could harm our tourism sector and international business.
We understand that enforcing Cayman’s drug law is difficult and resource-intensive. Sometimes, it seems there is more ganja washing up on our beaches than Sargassum seaweed, and still more being tossed over the wall of Northward Prison (intended recipients: convicted drug offenders).
Our country seems to be of two (or more) conflicting minds about ganja, and whether its use should be tolerated, discouraged or punishable by prison.
Currently, it appears (well, smells) as if the “non-prescription” use of cannabis is widespread throughout Cayman. It also appears at times that enforcement of the law can be inconsistent according to the circumstances of a suspect or offender.
Ambivalence only worsens a challenging situation. If we start winking at our own laws, we might as well close both eyes.
In case of further discussion of liberalizing – or toughening – Cayman’s legal stance on ganja, the conversation should not be led by advocates, but by experts: police, prosecutors, prison staff, physicians, educators, employers and professionals who are on the front lines of this ongoing culture war.