Barbados: Health official against recreational use of cannabis

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Despite Government’s declared intention to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana for personal use, the state’s main mental health institution is insisting on abstention except for medically prescribed purposes.

Director of the Psychiatric Hospital David Leacock said today his institution is firm in its position that no one should be using any type of narcotic drug whatsoever the amount.

“The hospital’s policy has been for the most part that we only believe marijuana should be used for medicinal reasons and prescribed by a medical practitioner. That still remains the case,” Leacock told Barbados TODAY this afternoon.

In fact, he warned Barbadians that marijuana poses a risk to the health of those who use it.

“We are not going to get into that discussion whether we think it is fair or unfair for those persons…whether it is within their rights to do or not to do. We deal from the medical side of things as far as how we see it, it does present a risk to persons if they are using marijuana,” the Psychiatric Hospital director stated.

“So, we still advocate that persons avoid the use of marijuana, particularly persons who are under age because their brain is still very much possibly influenced by marijuana use. So, we are still going to keep pushing that persons where possible, avoid marijuana at all levels,” Leacock told Barbados TODAY.

He was responding to Tuesday’s Throne Speech delivered by Governor-General Dame Sandra Mason in which she announced that a new law is coming that would allow people to possess marijuana without being arrested once it is half an ounce or less.

But while the Psychiatric Hospital boss was not prepared to predict how the pending legislation would impact admissions at his facility which has a special drug rehabilitation unit in place, he said it was bad enough that a large number of people in Barbados were already using marijuana.

“We can’t speak to what the potential outcomes will be at this stage. Unfortunately, we might have to wait and see how things develop as a consequence. But from our view point for the most part we still advocate that persons should abstain from any mind-altering substances if possible,” he said.

“Our concern is not from the viewpoint of the legalization of marijuana or otherwise. We are about empowering persons to make decisions relative to choices as far as whether to use or not use. And we still advocate that persons should not be using,” the Director of the 127-year-old mental institution stressed.

Leacock did say though that he appreciates the fact that the proposed legislation is aimed more at trying not to imprison people and then create additional challenges for marijuana possession.

“There are still some schools of thought that marijuana does not pose significant harm to persons mentally and persons have advocated for its use,” he noted. However, he was not buying that argument.

Leacock also told Barbados TODAY that there has been no significant increase in admissions to the hospital by drug users during the past six months and he questions whether this could be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated health protocols.

“The last six months of the coronavirus we would have had a reduction in the total number of admissions to the hospital obviously because of restrictions with persons being quarantined prior to transferals to the hospital. So we have seen a reduction of about 30 per cent through admissions,” he said.

He was then asked if he anticipated an increase in drug users being admitted to the rehabilitation unit once the new legislation comes into force.

“I don’t believe that the legislation will significantly impact the number of persons using substances. As we as a society already have a large number of people who use marijuana recreationally,” Leacock added.

The state-run National Council on Substance Abuse said this week it expected an increase in the number of people seeking counselling as a result of the new law.

The NCSA said it is committed to the treatment and recovery of individuals struggling with substance abuse and addiction.

Meanwhile, a law enforcement official yesterday described the pending measure as a farce which would create more zombies and gang warfare.

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