Senator Welch warns of cannabis dangers

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

File photo: Independent Senator Evans Welch

INDEPENDENT Senator Evans Welch recalled a youngster being sent to a psychiatric hospital after using marijuana, as he warned of the danger to untouched minds posed by the creation of a local legal cannabis industry, ostensibly for medical and religious purposes. He was speaking on Tuesday in the Senate debate on the Cannabis Control Bill 2020.

He began by dubbing the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Bill that allows cannabis for personal use as “a legislative masterpiece”, by unclogging the law courts and sparing users from stigma.

On the Cannabis Control Bill to regulate a cannabis industry, he supported the legalisation of cannabis for medicinal purposes such as pain relief and seizure alleviation, plus to facilitate freedom of religion and expression, and said these uses would flow from allowing recreational use.

However, Welch, an attorney, lamented the bill had “a lot of conceptual uncertainty”, reckoning the bill’s bottom line was all about economics.

“It is really like the creation of an industry masquerading behind the façade of medicinal and religious purposes, and that is my difficulty.

“I regard it as conceptually uncertain at best, and at worst potentially misleading.”

Welch warned an industry could only succeed if driven by demand.

“There must be a demand. There must be consumer demand. And there must be an extensive consumer demand, for it to succeed.

“If we are talking about success as an industry and extensive consumer demand, then the implication of that is necessarily a far more widespread use, increasing the level of demand by those stakeholders who are investing in this licensing process.”

Welch was concerned that the requisite increase in demand could have a possible social impact and ill-effects, which he said existed as a matter of fact.

“It is documented that the use of marijuana is addictive. It is documented that in some instances it can actually potentially do harm.”

He said it can reduce attentiveness and alertness, but more so can sometimes do harm, saying a Government MP had recalled someone suffering psychiatric harm from marijuana, but others being okay. Welch said, “I, too, know of an example, which I don’t rely on hearsay for, of a young individual who tried it and ended up with mental problems for the rest of his life.

“I was informed it was a situation where he was a person who had never even smoked a cigarette before, who had never used marijuana before, who had never been exposed to alcohol in any large quantities, and on the block a day he decided to try it for the first time and he was offered, and that was the end of that.

“The high he was got, he never came down from it.”

He said individuals whose brains had been never exposed to such substances, might suffer such ill-effects if exposed to marijuana.

“My concern is how many times this can be multiplied if this as an industry gets out of hand in the way it seems to me that it must do if it is to generate the type of economic activity which has been spoken of. There has to be a serious balance and a serious judgement call as to what is the more important – potential economic benefit or potential ill-effects.”

He warned that a cannabis industry, from which every licensee was seeking to make a profit, would fail unless there was demand. “They have to market it,” he predicted.

“When demand increases, it spreads unwittingly, beyond the present use which is allowed beyond the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act, which is recreational use in small quantities.”

Welch lamented that it seemed no feasibility study had been done in Trinidad and Tobago, and also asked if small producers would get their share of the pie.