EDITORIAL – Medical cannabis: Sober reflection on drug law

More than 8 pounds of ganja were recovered at a premises in West Bay on Friday.

“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.

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  1. First, I would like to ask the writer of this article where the facts for the statement ‘In addition to the potential harm to public health’ are? What harm are we talking about here? Because the cannabis users that I know tend to smoke/ingest in the comfort and safety of their own home, without causing any sort of ‘harm’. To piggyback this, the author then goes on to state in the very same sentence that legalisation may clash with the socially conservative and family friendly image that Cayman has, that could hurt our tourism sector (LAUGH). Does the author of this piece believe that legalisation would lead to people smoking pot with no regard for others? Because having travelled to MANY places where recreational marijuana is legalised, I can tell you very comfortably that it is not the case. The same rules apply as they do to cigarette smokers, and in some cases with even more restriction. On top of that, most marijuana smokers are fully aware of the stigma still associated to their drug of choice, and go to great lengths to ensure that their indulgence does not affect those around them.

    Moving to the tourism aspect of this- 20% of 3500 respondents in a SMARI survey in Denver, Colorado said legalised marijuana was a large reason for their decision to travel to the state. One can surmise that the same legalisation here in Grand Cayman. Given that there was an editorial piece in this very publication yesterday about Cayman Government’s reliance on immigration fees to generate revenue, would Cayman not benefit HUGELY from fees levied to marijuana/cannabis dispensers? In July, 2017, Colorado reported $500MILLION in tax revenue from the sale of cannabis. HALF OF A BILLION DOLLARS.

    And lastly, in your article you finish by decrying the rampant use of marijuana in Grand Cayman and local authorities lack of enforcement of the law in that regard. Perhaps before we go enforcing the cannabis laws we can try to do something about drunk driving, which is FAR AND AWAY the most dangerous issue in Grand Cayman. I have not seen a road-block on this island in MONTHS, and I believe we all know how egregious an issue that is on this island, and how dangerous and life-altering a decision to drive drunk can be.

    Just my $0.02 from the battle lines of this ‘war on culture’…

  2. You speak of not letting advocates lead the conversation, while you use the caymancompass platform the advocate for not allowing ganja to be legalized.

    Could you provide fact or evidence about the ‘harm to the public’ caused by use of marijuana or its extracts? Most users I know prefer to enjoy from the comfort (AND SAFETY) of their home. Piggybacking that, you mention that police have not enforced laws pertaining to ganja. If the author of this piece is so concerned about harm to the public and law enforcement, perhaps we should be having this conversation about the drunk driving problem on this island. I haven’t seen a roadblock in MONTHS, and I beg anyone to provide evidence that marijuana use is more dangerous to the public than drunk driving. The author posits that legalizing marijuana would degrade the ‘socially conservative and family friendly image’ as if, once legalized, the streets will be filled with degenerates puffing clouds of marijuana smoke, or something to that effect.

    To say that very little peer-reviewed evidence exists supporting the use of cannabinoids may be true in writing, but the FACT remains that the use of cannabinoids does distinctly assist those suffering from the ailments in question, which, to me, is pretty damn good evidence until scientific proof arrives. I have relatives that have recently gone through chemotherapy and a hip replacement, and both have said they could not have imagined managing the pain without the assistance of cannabinoids.

    Lastly, in regards to the author stating that legalizing will harm the bustling tourism industry in Cayman. I bring your attention to marijuana tourism in legalized parts of the United States. Colorado ALONE has generated $500MILLION in revenue from the industry as of July 2017. Is it so out of the realm of possibility that someone who enjoys to recreationally use marijuana might look at potential vacation spots and think ‘Legal in the Caribbean! Amazing!’ On this VERY website yesterday was an article about Government reliance on Immigration Fees to generate revenue. Imagine the addition $ that could be generated by the cannabis industry.

    You claim that the only way to go about this conversation is to leave it to the experts, not the advocates, yet you stand on your soapbox, your very VISIBLE platform, and advocate to keep cannabis illegal (correct?). Perhaps you just need to sit down on the couch, roll one up, and chill out.

    Legalize it.

  3. The stark truth is that Cayman’s medical marijuana law was rushed through to accommodate a handful of needy, and influential people, without any concerns addressed to the broader issues of rampant marijuana usage in the general population, which remains a crime, punishable by incarceration.

    It is only a small percentage of marijuana users who ever get caught and arrested in Cayman; the majority of users continue to enjoy their marijuana use in the privacy of their own homes and in the circles of their trusted friends and fellow users…they take all measures to avoid detection by the law…and they cover all walks and levels of the society.

    The use of marijuana has never been linked or associated with addiction that leads to crimes being committed to feed a habit…in no country…including the Cayman Islands.

    It has never been proven to impare driving ability, leading to dangerous and deadly driving accidents and there is no current way of testing levels of usage and effects for this purpose…as there is for alcohol.

    Any accusations of marijuana linked to these problems is purely unproven speculation.

    The stigma against marijuana use for recreational purposes remains a cultural one ingrained by many years of programming in most of the countries in which it is illegal…especially the Cayman Islands.

    None of the other issues raised in this editorial and very informative comments have been addressed in the passing of this law and raises many more issues than it solves.

    The case under mention is only one example of what will be a continuing and escalating problem in Cayman.

  4. I totally agree with Jeremy’s posts, as a medical marijuana card holder in the states and a yearly visitor to Grand Cayman I would like to say Jeremy is spot on with his views concerning medical marijuana especially when compared to alcohol use and abuse. Marijuana is a godsend to those of us who find benefits from its pain relief and anxiety control rather than opioids or other pharmaceutical means. I ask the Cayman people and legislators to be open minded moving forward and talk to those that it benefits before deciding on hasty laws that would more than likely hurt the medical marijuana cause in the Caymans. Dennis St. Claire.

  5. I’d like to weigh in on the science side. The article claims that: “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).”

    This is simply and demonstrably false. As evidence, I submit two pieces of data for consideration. First, there is an EU database of 700 ailments for which there is some credible evidence that cannabis can be therapeutic: http://www.encod.org/info/700-MEDICINAL-USES-OF-CANNABIS.html (if any links are broken, just google the article title and usually you can find it just placed somewhere else within the website – this happens a lot in medical information sites/journals, due to the amount of information constantly being amassed).

    The second datapoint is that the US government actually has its OWN patent on therapeutic cannabis uses: http://www.denverpost.com/2016/08/28/what-is-marijuana-patent-6630507/ or for the details: https://www.google.ca/patents/US6630507 .

  6. The author posits that legalizing marijuana would degrade the ‘socially conservative and family friendly image’

    This one is laughable…obviously made by someone who has absolutely no knowledge or experience on the subject but parroting politically correct views.

    This writer needs to speak to people working in the hotel industry, incognito.

    And have them tell of the many visitors who regularly smoke locally supplied marijuana in their hotels while on vacation without being reported to the police per hotel policy; they are warned and requested to desist..as per hotel policy…that is all.

    Or of the many times they (the hotel workers) are subjected to inquiries as to how and where to acquire marijuana while on vacation…and their (the visitors) total shock and consternation when told that they will be arrested and hauled into court for a joint, while on vacation in the Cayman Islands.

    A completely opposite factual scenario than the one this journalist is trying to convey.