Author and veteran journalist Oswald Brown on why Marijuana should be legalized in the Bahamas

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Oswald Brown presenting his book to Dame Maguerite The Governor General of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas.

When I covered Jamaica’s independence in August of 1962 for The Tribune, I did a feature article on the Rastafarians and their lifestyle. To get interviews, a Jamaican journalistic colleague arranged for me to visit a Rastafarian camp off Foreshore Road. I got there around dinner time and was invited to have dinner with a group of them. We sat in a circle and ate from a large bowl at the centre of the circle, and after we finished eating, they passed around a marijuana “joint” the size of a large cigar.

When I took a puff, I almost choked to death, and my host repeatedly slapped me on the back while saying, “Ma bradda, you no have to partake, this our ritual.” That was my one and only experience with marijuana, but I have friends who were regular users while we were growing up in Nassau and, with very few exceptions, they are all law-abiding and responsible adults, some of whom are very successful in their chosen professions.

Whether or not they still occasionally or regularly indulge in the habit, I do not know, but now that the possibility of marijuana being legalized for medicinal purposes and for the decriminalization of small amounts for personal use is being debated in The Bahamas, as a journalist whose points of view on various issues in the past were expressed in editorials — when I was Editor of the Nassau Guardian and the Freeport News, at different times – and in my personal column OSWALD BROWN WRITES, I thought that I should weigh in on the issue.

Obviously, because members of the CARICOM Regional Commission on Marijuana is currently in Nassau for a Town Meeting tonight, Friday, January 5, it must be assumed that there is a serious effort underway to destigmatize the use of marijuana as being dangerous and harmful and a stepping stone to using more dangerous drugs.

It has always been my opinion that all three of these objectionable outcomes result from becoming addicted to marijuana, although in each case my conclusion is not based on empirical evidence. In fact, I have seen persons who have smoked a “joint” in my presence become less argumentative and more lucid in expressing themselves, an outcome that convinced some users that marijuana was actually “good” for them.

But my major objection to the use of marijuana was, and still is, because it is AGAINST THE LAW, a fact which has literally redirected the lives of some young men who were arrested for having small amounts from the highway to possibly becoming law-abiding citizens to a side street leading to a life of crime and the revolving door at Fox Hill Prison.

After that first arrest for “possession of dangerous drugs,” if a young offender lands before a hard-hearted, compassionless Magistrate who fails to appreciate the consequences of his unforgiving sentencing guidelines and sends that young man to prison, once he is released from prison, he is ostracized by society and can’t find meaningful employment, so he returns to the “profession” that was responsible for him being sent to prison, but this time in a more serious manner. In essence, his life has been ruined.

This is one of the reasons why I strongly support the decriminalization of marijuana and hope that it will be one of the suggestions made by the CARICOM Regional Commission on Marijuana when it has completed its rounds of the 14 CARICOM-member countries.

I know that there will be a strong objections to this becoming a reality from the Bahamas Christian Council, whose membership includes far too many charlatans and hypocrites who operate their churches like businesses to fund their extravagant lifestyles, but now is the time for the majority of Bahamians to support this effort to liberalize the use of marijuana in The Bahamas.

As I noted earlier, I tried it once but never again, so I really can’t provide any personal testimony as to how it affects people who regularly use it. My mind-altering substance of choice is alcohol, which I have been imbibing from my teenage years. In fact, after our team played basketball games at the Priory Court on West Hill Street back in the early 1960s, we used to go to the Green Brothers Pastel Lounge in the Grove and put a 40-ounce bottle of Vat 19 in the middle of the table and usually consumed most of it.

I no longer drink rum because I got very drunk one night and woke up the next morning with a serious hangover. My drink of choice since then is Scotch, preferably Dewar’s White Label or Chivas Regal. However, there is a strong body of opinion that alcohol is more harmful to the body than marijuana, but my response when that argument is used with me always is, “At least alcohol is legal.”

I think the time has come for my standard response to no longer be relevant. Marijuana use should outrightly be legalized. Once that happens, the huge profits being made by those who now illegally traffic in it will no longer be a reason for some of our young men to embark on a life of crime.