Saturday, July 12, 2008

Legalizing Marijuana in Sri Lanka

I was recently reminded by a friend that Sri Lanka actually does have legal access medical Marijuana (Ganja). The practitioners of traditional Ayurvedic medicine are allowed to carry 1kg (figure unconfirmed) amount of Ganja to be used for medicinal purposes. Unfortunately, the government doesn't extend the same courtesy to medical doctors in the western tradition.

I am told the veda mahathays (ayurvedic doctors) have access to the best quality stuff, which they often sell for other um, recreational purposes. Don't ask me why, but I believe him.

A dilemma I often face is whether advocating for decriminalization or legalization of Marijuana in a place like Sri Lanka is actually worth it.

Obviously, there is very little case to ban the substance in the first place. Not only because Ganja has medicinal properties, but the risk of addiction is comparatively low, there's also no evidence that it's any more harmful than tobacco. Most arguments for prohibition is based on some notion that this is 'risky'. Well yes it is risky, so is tobacco, alcohol or for that matter, living in Colombo. Should most motorsports, or professions which has risk in it's job description -- policing, security guards, army personnel -- also be banned? I think not. What we have is a social stigma against using stuff like Marijuana. There is almost no objective case.

But now that it's illegal, does it make sense to advocate for legalization? From a purely consequentionalist standpoint, I think the answer leans on being 'No'.

I haven't been to a party in Colombo with late-teens or twentysomethings which didn't have someone lighting up Ganja. Even if you are caught using or carrying moderate amounts of ganja, you can pay the market-price for the bribe in most occasions (unless you really F up). Same goes for most other victimless crimes like prostitution. If you want the service, you can get it. When enforcement is weak like we have in Sri Lanka, does really it make sense to fire up the debate and actually make this an issue? from a user-perspective, I think the answer is No.

However, critical to the overall consequentionalist argument for the status quo is whether keeping marijuana illegal has other consequences, like providing revenue streams and upkeep for criminal gangs. Economics of prohibition is simple. If you ban something that's in high demand, it simply goes underground. Think prostitution, think kassipu (illicit liquor), think almost anything that has wide appeal, and is banned. These things don't disappear, they just fall into the black-market operated by goons and criminals.

People familiar with the Indian scene might remember the case of Scarlett Keeling, the 15-year-old British girl who was raped and murdered in Goa by a few drug dealers. Soon after the incident, I remember Jug Suraiya's article in TOI which hinted that perhaps Scarlett would have survived, had drugs in Goa was legal. In the article (I recommend a read) he presented the following statistics:
UN has estimated the international drug trade at $400 billion a year, a sum larger than the US defense budget and which constitutes 8 per cent of all global trade (textiles account for 7.5 per cent and automobiles for 5.3 per cent). [link]
Most of this trade is not Marijuana, it's probably other drugs. The critical question is how much exactly does Marijuana contributes to crime. This is difficult to answer, since marijuana dealers don't exactly report their accounts to the Inland Revenue Department. But for what it's worth, legalizing may be a good way of cutting down revenue potential for criminals (including perhaps the LTTE) and getting entrepreneurs in to the business of ganja.

If we require a debate at all on this issue, it's this one we should be having. But what are the chances of that happening?

6 comments:

Jack Point said...

I've written something on a broader policy towards drugs on my blog.

As far as marijuana is concerned, the best policy would be 'don't ask, don't tell'. An official blind eye. The same should be the case for other victimless crimes like prostitution.

Hilal said...

I'll tell you the primary reason Ganja should be legalized.

A few months ago when the security forces engaged the Tamil Tigers in the East they found the Tigers growing crops of Marijuana so as to sustain a form of income. The reason Marijuana prices are high in Sri Lanka is because it is not freely available and it is illegal. Thus giving life to a black market.

There is no reason why alchohol should be legal when marijuana is not considering the number of alcohol related abuses. It is after all a plant and as the bible says:

Revelation 22:2:

"In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations."

Deane said...

Jack point, that would be better than current policy, yes. but I think it would still keep things in the black market. Which is less optimal. But I think we will go through that transition. blind eye to legalization someday.

Hilal, Yes, probably. My hunch though is LTTE would simply shift to other drugs, if marijuana stops being a revenue source. But of course, some income lost is something.

Also, great video-bog man, I'm a big fan.

Deane said...

Will have a follow up post tomorrow on this as well.

AMIT said...

This thing is there in Sri Lanka also?I was not knowing.

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