JIS News

Story Highlights

  • The National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA) is advocating for State resources to be channelled into interventions that discourage the use of cannabis (ganja), particularly by the society’s youth.
  • This, according to Executive Director, Michael Tucker, is imperative against the background of what he describes as an emerging worrying development, consequent on decriminalisation of possession of two ounces of the plant.
  • Speaking at a recent JIS Think Tank, Mr. Tucker cited a “gradual shift” was taking place in the risk perception among youth, based on decriminalisation.

The National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA) is advocating for State resources to be channelled into interventions that discourage the use of cannabis (ganja), particularly by the society’s youth.

This, according to Executive Director, Michael Tucker, is imperative against the background of what he describes as an emerging worrying development, consequent on decriminalisation of possession of two ounces of the plant.

Speaking at a recent JIS Think Tank, Mr. Tucker cited a “gradual shift” was taking place in the risk perception among youth, based on decriminalisation.

“Anecdotal evidence suggests a misunderstanding of the meaning of decriminalisation, interpreting it as a free-for-all across the board,” he said.

The Executive Director said consequent on this development, it is important to delay the onset of cannabis use for as long as possible, to preserve proper brain development without interference in young people.

This, he argued, would counteract the academic underachievement and engagement in high-risk behaviour that are associated with early use of cannabis. Mr. Tucker pointed out that national drug-prevention efforts have been ongoing but require significant scaling-up to incorporate best practices such as sustained interventions across developmental stages (early childhood to adolescence) that incorporate both families and communities.

He said that it was also important to engage the teachers, as they are a critical group who spend significant time with children and adolescents.

“We need consistent capacity building of teachers and guidance counsellors to detect associated risks and problems early,” he said, adding that this can strategically bolster prevention efforts.

Mr. Tucker further opined that capacity building for screening and brief interventions in the primary healthcare setting can also address the issue of adolescent substance use before they advance to misuse and engage in the high-risk behaviours that may lead to unfavourable outcomes.

He referenced a 2016 National Household Survey study by the NCDA, which indicated that 10 per cent of 12 to17-year-olds perceived that there was little or no risk associated with frequent use of cannabis, adding that up to 40 per cent reported that there is low or no risk associated with infrequent use of other substances.

This, Mr. Tucker said, is a mindset that could fuel the early initiation of substance use if youth feel that they will not be frequent users of substances.

Mr. Tucker also advised that young people have easy access to ganja, with 70 per cent of the population (12 to 65 age group) reporting that they had easy access, while 50 per cent of secondary-school-age children reported that illegal drugs were sold in and around their school compounds. He said efforts to restrict access, particularly among youth, are crucial.

According to the Executive Director, the National Secondary School Survey of 2013 revealed that 20 per cent of Jamaican secondary-school students have smoked ganja at some point in their lifetime. Further, that just over 10 per cent smoked it in the past year and six per cent in the last month. He informed that the average age of first use was 13 years.