Basseterre, St. Kitts, April 24, 2017 (SKNIS): When it comes to the drive to decriminalize marijuana within the Caribbean Region, Executive Director of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), Dr. C. James Hospedales, said that from a public health point of view, policy makers should “proceed with an abundance of caution.”

Dr. Hospedales said this during the April 18th edition of “Working for You,” where he mentioned that there is often discussions about the decriminalization of marijuana.

Speaking to the Caribbean public health impacts or public health dimensions of decriminalization and legalization of marijuana, he stated that there have been several times in history where populations and societies have gone very liberal with substances of abuse.

“The Americans are in the middle of a big opioid crisis and some many decades ago they had a huge problem with addiction and especially among white women,” he said. “We in the Caribbean have a problem with marijuana and clogging up of the courts and the justice system and that’s understandable to try and reduce that side effect. I think though, in introducing these kinds of public policies, consideration has to be given to the full range of impact.”

The Executive Director of CARPHA said that if marijuana were to be decriminalized, there may be repercussions.

“We don’t want that when you’ve solved the problem so to speak of reducing the burden of the judicial system and the prisons you create a great surge in the increase of mental health admissions for marijuana addiction and other addictions,” he said. “What I think needs to happen is that there should be strong public education concomitant with decriminalization if government proceeds along that route; also, proper monitoring of impact policies.

Dr. Hospedales said that there are some countries where there are reports by the chief medical officers that they are indeed seeing major increases in admissions for mental health problems associated with marijuana psychosis and increased use. “So, generally you have to look at the whole thing when making a public policy decision,” he said.

With regards to young persons using marijuana, Dr. Hospedales said that research shows that a significant percentage of young people in the Caribbean already use marijuana even if it is only infrequently. In some cases, more reported the use of tobacco or cigarettes.

“The harmful consequences of this are well documented,” he said. “From mental health to social interactions to occupational opportunities. If you are a young person, it is very bad for your studies and it tends to demotivate a lot of young people. I think most Caribbean people are aware of others around us, for example, in our families and among friends, who have not achieved their potential because they have been smoking weed most of their lives or they have a problem with it.”

The Executive Director said that because there is significant medical, social and occupational harm associated with marijuana use, the move to decriminalize it must be taken seriously and if decriminalized there needs to be proper regulation of the substance.