The use of cannabis should not be legalised
February 5, 2004
Recently there has been increasing attention to tackling the problem of drug use within global criminal justice systems.
The current UK Government's ten-year strategy for drug misuse, "Tackling Drugs to Build a Better Britain," states one of its key objectives as increasing participation of problem drug misusers, including prisoners, in drug treatment programmes which have a positive impact on health and crime.
The link between criminal activity and drug use is well documented, as is the fact that cannabis use can exacerbate underlying predispositions to psychosis and schizophrenia. It is for the above reasons that I find the recent call by Dr M Y Bacchus for the decriminalization of the use of cannabis highly inopportune and reckless. A significant number of people engage in criminal activities to sustain their involvement in illegal drug use. The casual reader of the crime supplements of our major newspapers will deduce that we are currently faced with very daunting criminal justice challenges.
Decrim-inalizing cannabis would only compound these problems.
Professionals within the criminal justice system acknowledge the cyclical process many drug users encounter by engaging in crime to fund their drug use, going to prison, being released and committing crime again. The reduction of some crime has been long established to have a link to the reduction in drug use.
This has provided a rationale for targeting treatment at offenders. In the long-term, investing in treatment programmes will not only decrease the current burgeoning Guyanese prison population, in terms paving the way for the greater use non-custodial disposals but it would drastically reduce crime and create fewer demands on health services and police resources.
The criminal justice system may well be ideally placed to target interventions because of the growing number of problem drug users that exist within it. In Britain, there are today, multiple pathways into drug treatment within the criminal justice system and people can be targeted at various points: arrest, sentencing, prison or community (depending on the punishment given) and also Post-release. These projects range from Arrest Referral Schemes to Drug Treatment and Testing Orders and they should be considered by the authorities in Guyana as they put the emphasis on treatment and seek to avoid incarceration.
My position on chronic, acute or mild drug use is not decriminalization but punishment, and treatment within a non-custodial framework. Guyana, as a poor developing country has to seek ways to reduce its prison population, thereby striking a critical balance between the growing economic costs of imprisonment and the maintenance of quantum proportionality of punishment. Petty drug offenders who pose no serious threat to the community should not take up space in our already over-crowded prisons.
Our prisons must continue to be the warehouses for the most dangerous offenders in Guyana. The British drug rehabilitation model is highly commendable, Guyanese criminal justice policy makers can incorporate aspects of this model into our drug policy.
Joseph B Collins