JAMAICA – When 25 students from one local educational institution were asked to do a random drug test two weeks ago, administrators were a bit surprised to learn that only three were found to not have ganja in their system.
Guidance counsellor at the St John Bosco Boys Home in Manchester, Josephine Stultz, said the boys were asked to do the drug tests when they turned up at school one morning due to concerns about their behaviour.
“I have been observing from last term that some of the behaviour is very rapid, they can be very confrontational,” she said of the boys.
Administrators of the institution, which was converted into a time out facility last year, decided to partner with the Ministry of Education Region Five office to get the drug tests done. Parents had previously given consent for their children to be tested randomly.
“Before now, we suspected it, but we have been looking at information; informing them of the dangers,” said Stultz.
“But what I do find is that it is not so much information as misinformation because there is just this cultural practice and norm that this is something that these boys need to do. This is how they prove their manhood,” she told The Sunday Gleaner.
“They are also saying to us, without fear, that two ounces [is allowed] and they don’t have two, and so police can’t lock them up,” she said.
The Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act 2015 was passed by both Houses of Parliament in February of that year and came into effect in April. Based on the changes, possession of two ounces or less of ganja is no longer an offence for which one can be arrested, charged and tried in court, and will not result in a criminal record. However, the police may issue a ticket to a person in possession of two ounces or less of ganja, similar to a traffic ticket, and the person would have 30 days to pay $500 at any tax office.
Michael Tucker, executive director of the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA), said that four years after the amendment, a number of Jamaicans are still of the view that the use of the drugs has been legalised.
“What we have seen, which is a little worrying, is that people are confused,” he said, while reiterating calls for more campaigns to be done to educate people about what obtains under the new legislation.
“What our experience has been is that some public education was done, but enough wasn’t, so even students are saying it is legalised now,” he said.
Stultz said some of the boys have easy access to the drugs as it is planted in their backyards.
“I have students whose parents cultivate it and sell,” she said.
Based on the new provisions, the use of ganja by persons of the Rastafarian faith, and use of ganja for medicinal, therapeutic and scientific purposes is allowed. Each household is also allowed to legally grow no more than five ganja plants on its premises, and if there is more than one household on any premises, each household may grow five ganja plants.
Stultz said the boys were informed when being admitted to the institution that drug tests would be done; however, they have often bragged about being able to beat it.
“The boys are smart. When they hear that you are coming or they know, they tell me what they used to clean up so that it would be negative. They know what to take,” she said.
“They didn’t know that we were having this one. They just came in for devotion and, bam, it started. So they were caught off guard,” she explained.
Tucker said there has been a steady increase in requests for the services offered by the NCDA since the amendment to the act. Several requests for testing have come from guidance counsellors, school administrators, and even parents. Several of the boys have, however, made attempts to beat the test through a variety of means, including taking a sample of someone else’s urine to be tested. Tucker recalls one male even taking urine belonging to a female to be tested.
“There are various ways to mask what is there, but usually the test will show if the person is using because the ganja stays in your system for quite a while,” he said.
Under the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act 2015, a person who is found in possession of two ounces or less who is under the age of 18 years, or who is 18 years or older and appears to the police to be dependent on ganja is referred to the NCDA for counselling.