Cannabis -a Menace that needs prevention or a ‘herb’ that requires control?

 Published with courtesy from the Daily Miror

A growing trend among today’s Lankan youth is the use of Cannabis which has resulted in the emergence of a sub culture within society. The Authorities have been on a head hunt apprehending and destroying acres of Cannabis cultivation in the dry zones of the South, however the prevalence of the drug amongst youth has diminished.

 According to Police sources the drugs consumed the most in Sri Lanka are Cannabis, Heroin and Opium respectively. Access to Cannabis is greater due to it being grown in the dry zones of the country in the Eastern and Southern provinces. The estimated land area under cannabis cultivation presently is close to 400 hectares. 

In light of this situation the Government has focused its attention on the illicit production, trafficking and abuse of drugs in the country, and the adverse effects of drugs on the health of those addicted to them.

In addition, drug abuse has led to the upsurge in drug related crime; robberies, murders and rape. Furthermore the social impact of drug use includes the draining of human, natural and financial resources, the destruction of individuals, families and communities, and our cultural norms, all of which need urgent attention. 

 Any government has to be aware of its international obligations, particularly those stemming from the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs 1961, Convention on Psychotropic Substances 1971, and United Nations Convention Against Illicit Trafficking Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances 1988 ratified by the previous governments.

 The present administration has reaffirmed its political will and determination to tackle the drug problem locally and internationally by reviewing the existing national policy, which was formulated more than a decade ago.

 The concerned non-government agencies are expected to be active partners in the implementation of the government policy. Fulfillment of the social responsibilities of private sector institutions within the framework of this policy is also critical in drug prevention and control. 

Cannabis is an illicit drug.  According to Police reports cannabis usage in Sri Lanka is increasing. A large number of people use cannabis on a day today basis in rural and urban areas of the country. Many consider cannabis a harmless escape and go on to justify it as an Ayurvedic preparation which causes no harm to the human body and could even be therapeutic. 

 However these are misconceptions propagated by those that earn a quick buck by selling an illegal drug to unsuspecting young men and women. The drug can cause severe long term psychological issues which result in sociological concerns. Many school going young people try a “puff of pot” in order to be accepted amongst their social circles. However the danger is that, unlike a cigarette, a ‘joint’ gives the user an instant ‘high’ which inevitably leads to the user getting ‘hooked’ on to the drug..

 ‘Madanamodaka’ is an Ayurvedic preparation which contains a certain sub form of cannabis. Young people are attracted to these preparations in order to achieve higher sexual stamina, increased muscle mass and various other promises made by their peer groups. But medical experts assert that these are illusionary benefits and the only clear results of drug use are psychological and physical impairment.

 Cannabis usage is rapidly spreading within our community as a result of low awareness, false propaganda and as a negative method of coping with stress. Research has found that those addicted to nicotine also take up the habit, causing those that are attempting to give up one bad habit to take on another. 

Steps taken by Police and STF

 

The police together with the elite Special Task Force (STF) stepped up tracking Cannabis cultivators in the Eastern Province with the end of the war.

 Many raids have been carried out so far not only in the East but also in the Thanamalwila, Hambegamuwa and Haputale. The police have recovered 55,000 kilos of cannabis and 13,000 persons were arrested for possessing them.

 The Special Task Force (STF) has been able to raid more than 200 acres since March last year and has destroyed 566,000 ganja plants by using satellite maps to identify the cannabis cultivation in the jungle and the Global Positioning System (GPS) to conduct such raids. 

STF said that these raids were conducted in thick jungles in the forest reserves in Hambegamuwa, Sevenagala, Udawalawa, Lunugamwehera, Suwandanaru, Hawengala and Thanamalwila.

 However when the operation was begun it was a difficult task to identify the areas where the large ganja plantations were cultivated with cannabis as they were located in thick jungles.

 “Some were located at places where no one would think to cultivate any crop. The STF was able to raid a place in Unakanda, Hambegamuwa which is situated 600m above sea level,” the STF said. 

The STF will continue to use these technologically advanced methods and has already identified ganja plantations in forest reserves especially in the Hambegamuwa, Lekonara, Wellawaya, Lunugamwehera, Wandawa, Sooriyawewa and Thanamalwila areas, he added. 

The STF would continue with the raids and has so far arrested nearly twenty suspects with weapons in their possession and they have being handed over to the area police to be produced before the courts. According to the STF the modern technology was beneficial as it enabled the personnel of the elite STF to approach the target at a minimum time and also by using the shortest route.

A different perspective

 

The Cannabis plant grows naturally in many parts of the world. It’s adaptability to various climatic conditions sees it growing from the highest altitudes to even the harsh climates of the lowlands. Historic evidence traces marijuana use back to the 3rd millennium BCE where cannabis seeds were found in a ritual brazier at an ancient burial site in present day Romania.

 A 2003 find of the presence of cannabis leaf fragments and seeds found next to a 2500 to 2800 year old mummified shaman in the northwestern Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in China shows that the drug’s historical use was not limited to a single geographical location. 

The ancient Vedas mention the drug “soma” which is widely believed to be a reference to cannabis and the present day term “ganja” is etymologically rooted in the Sanskrit word ganjika.

 What is clear is that the use of Ganja predates modern civilization. It’s a drug that was born out of the earth and is in its essence natural. Many spiritual seekers use the drug as a mode to enter ‘higher consciousness’. Sufi’s – the mystical arm of Islam even to this day are in the habit of using ‘ganja’ or its sub product ‘Hashish’ in order to be one with god. 

 Ascetics of the Hindu tradition who reside and meditate in the deep forests of Nepal and India are known to use the drug as a mode of spiritual exploration. A sub product of Cannabis -‘Charas’ is used by many Shivaite yogis. For the modern day Rastafari movement this drug is a part and parcel of their worship, bible study and meditation. The plant is still used in traditional Sri Lankan Ayurvedic medicine for the treatment of various conditions that range from cholera to venereal diseases. 

 What should be understood at the outset is that two sub cultures exist among the Lankan users. The villager or the semi urban user of the drug often finds the drug in small packets which range from Rs.150 to Rs.200 depending on the location they reside. These users are less sophisticated and smoke for the general high. Often these users are seen in groups and are only concerned about the instant ‘high’ the drug gives to them. These users smoke plants that are grown in the deep south of the country and generally smoke weed rolled.

 However, the more urban Colombo elite can be seen as the more sophisticated user. These users pay much emphasis and attention to detail with regard to the quality of the product. The ‘weed’ is more often than not smoked in specific papers designed for tobacco or marijuana rolling. Presently many of this users have strayed away from the usual ‘home grown Ganja’ and have taken to more sophisticated versions of it. Kerala Ganja or what is commonly known as KG is used heavily among Colombo’s sophisticated user.

 This user is usually well educated and has more than a basic idea about the drug, its making and its effects.  Many of these smokers prefer to smoke the weed in a pipe or a chillum to enhance the mental high. The weed is brought in grams for which they pay premium prices.

 The smoking of the drug among the youth of Colombo is not confined to males. Many females have taken to smoking the drug of which many can be categorized as constant users. However this phenomenon is confined to the more westernized youth of Colombo. 

 The increasing acceptance of cannabis around the world has created many subcultures associated with it within the country.

 For instance it is not uncommon to see many three wheelers around Colombo colorfully adorned in stickers of the cannabis leaf or the popular image of Bob Marley, who happens to be a global icon amongst cannabis users. 

 To date there has not been a comprehensive sociological study in identifying the reason for this trend. The authorities have time and again resorted to the high handed approach of apprehending and destroying the drug but little has been done to study the motives, reasons and the sociological impact the use of Ganja has. 

The National Drug Prevention Authority despite the brouhaha it usually creates the moment a ‘hena’ is destroyed has seldom addressed the real issue.  Does ‘Ganja’ deserve being criminalized? If so why and what measures are to be taken to effectively curb the growing usage.? Why is it that more and more youth resort to the smoking of the plant? Is it due to prevailing economic, socio political influences? What are the impacts it will have on the general populous as a whole? These questions and many more need answers and the Lankan authorities seem to provide none. 

The article should not be misconstrued as calling for a shift in governmental policy and the decriminalizing of the drug. What is attempted is a portrayal of a somewhat brief picture of the social phenomenon that has not been addressed by the powers that be. A phenomenon that is similar to the elephant in the room which no body speaks of.

 It has seldom been a point of national debate and is only dealt with in the manner a thief is dealt with. Clearly there is a much bigger social problem than the simple apprehending, fineing and burning solution that the authorities time and again resort to.  What is clear is despite the ignorance of the Sri Lankan community as a whole with regard to the drug there exists a cause and therefore an effect.

 An emerging culture of a leap in pot smokers is a situation that needs to be addressed as soon as possible. Thus a comprehensive study in this regard is the need of the moment based on which conclusions should be reached.

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