Almost a year after the law made the possession of two ounces, or less, of ganja a non-arrestable, but ticketable, offence, and some students went on a ganja-smoking spree immediately thereafter, at least one school is still grappling with students overindulging in ganja and other substances.
As a result, the Oberlin High School in rural St Andrew yesterday hosted a forum to sensitise students to the dangers associated with drug abuse.
The amendment to the Dangerous Drug Act, which decriminalised the possession of ganja under two ounces, came into effect last year. It literally turns a blind eye to the possession of small amounts of ganja for personal use and sets out a regime for the cultivation of the weed for medical purposes.
Kadian Graham, head of guidance and counselling at Oberlin, indicated that a group session, which was held with first- and second-form students, aimed at addressing issues that they continued to see at the school on a daily basis among students.
A GREAT CHALLENGE
“We have been having a challenge as it relates to students exploring the use of cigarette and marijuana, and we have seen an increase since the law has decriminalised the use of marijuana. As such, we have collaborated with the National Council on Drug Abuse to have group sessions through our guidance programmes,” she said following a forum dubbed ‘Kick Butts Day’, hosted in collaboration with the Jamaica Cancer Society, Ministry of Health, National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA), Jamaica Coalition for Tobacco Control, and the National Secondary Schools Council.
“For the most part, the students who we have to give referrals due to the chronic use of marijuana, we recognise a mixture of issues, particularly as it relates to parenting – whether it’s a loss of a parent, parent having some chronic illness, children being left with relatives – and then when that is combined with drinking,” she lamented.
Former minister of education Ronald Thwaites reported to Parliament last year the troubling information from two principals that the ‘decriminalisation day’ for the weed coincided with maladjusted behaviours of students who, it seemed, believed that it was all right to smoke ganja. The report said that at least two students had to be taken to hospital for suspected psychosis brought on after they reportedly smoked marijuana to enhance their learning potential.
Oberlin has been making progress with its intervention exercise. The guidance counsellor indicated that parents were a big part of the rehabilitation process and shared that they had been seeing positive results following small sensitising sessions that they had been conducting.
“There has been some misunderstanding, but we have been trying to do our part to let students know that they should desist from the practice. We have been conducting small sessions and we are seeing results. Sometimes they relapse, but grades have been up and they are attending classes,” she said.
“We want to have our students functioning in an environment where they are able to maximise their potential and be more socially rounded so that they can function in the wider society,” Graham continued.
Daniel Brown, substance abuse officer for Kingston and St Andrew at the NCDA, also stressed the need for more collaboration among stakeholders in order to produce successful results in the fight against drug abuse.
“Everything is linked, and so we realise that it makes no sense to work in isolation. We quickly jumped on board to spread the message because we are all targeting the same audience. We are basically in the business of saving lives,” Brown said.
“I must say, there has been a slight decrease in ganja use among teens. The age of onset has increased by one year, which means there has been some improvement there,” he said.