How ganja changed one young man’s life

Jamaica Observer: Many people hold the view that smoking ganja is harmless, suggesting that it calms the mind, but the drug, according to experts, is not as mild as they think.

When Marlon Lopez was introduced to ganja 25 years ago he thought his pain would go away, but little did he know that it would cause more aches than what he encountered when his parents separated.

Lopez, who was a student at Campion College when he was introduced to ganja, thought that just one puff from a spliff given to him by his peers would fill the void of not having his parents around.

By this time Lopez,who was slated to sit eight Caribbean Examinations Council subjects, managed to do only six. As a consequence of smoking ganja, Lopez said he started ‘sculling’ classes and, as a result of that, his grades fell in two subject areas and so he was not admitted to sit those subjects.

“It changed my personality. The abuse of marijuana… at the end of the day I became an addict. I loved it. I forgot about everything … I swear. You know like that first girl that you fall in love with — it was like a falling in love situation,” Lopez told the Jamaica Observer in an interview, adding that he was not aware of the side effects.

By this time the ganja smoking had intensified.

“For me it was just a good thing at that time. Looking back now I understand, but then it was like you stressed out. This thing alleviates the stress but what happen now is that it took away my ambition, my drive to become somebody in society,” Lopez reasoned.

Under the tutelage of his mother he was enrolled at Calabar High School, but he only survived a term at the Red Hills Road-based institution.

“My focus was just on getting high, that’s it. My life after that was just getting high. My priority was just getting high. Everything else took second nature,” Lopez said, adding that when he was supposed to be studying he was getting high.

Shortly after, he was enrolled at Excelsior Community College but that did not last long either.

Lopez’s addiction gradually became a burden and an embarrassment to his relatives.

“My mother, seeing how necessary education was and she seeing how drug abuse was affecting my life … that must have hurt her. At that time how mommy felt did not matter, I just wanted to use and she was trying to interfere with me. As a matter of fact, what is reaching me now is that if you’re not a user you were not in my circle. To be honest, I didn’t even care at that time so the relationship strain,” Lopez said, adding that he became withdrawn.

Sunk in dark thoughts, he was unable to keep a job.

“I can honestly say that I lose over 20 jobs. I just kept on getting jobs and losing them,” Lopez revealed.

When he could no longer keep a job he became a drug dealer.

“I was dealing for quite a while, I never business. I was making money, so I could support my habits,” Lopez said.

Lopez, who became a multifaceted dealer, said he started preparing ganja for exporting.

“So you know say mi turn criminal now. I never saw myself as a criminal then, but I was a criminal… is weed me selling, not crack cocaine,” Lopez said, adding that it was just a matter of time before he was busted.

Lopez said he was arrested and charged for possession of ganja, dealing in ganja, and taking steps to export ganja.

But the charges did not faze him — he was steadfast on feeding his addiction.

Lopez, who was in his mid-20s at that time, said that he relocated from Spanish Town, St Catherine, to Waterhouse in St Andrew.

“Mid deh a Waterhouse now and a do little juggling. I was abusing the weed same way and thing, but by now me get married,” Lopez reasoned.

But this only became worse.

“Ganja now and the wife thing, mi start get abusive with my wife. When she see say she can’t manage guess weh she do? — police station. Ganja is a helluva thing innuh. Mi beat this woman and just naa expect say one day she ago really… she threaten me and see it deh, she took actions,” Lopez said.

He was again arrested and brought before the court.

When the matter was called up, Lopez said the judge, after questioning his actions, realised that something was not right. He was subsequently remanded for psychiatric evaluation.

“The judge asked me about substance abuse and I said yes. I was remanded for three weeks and they took me to Bellevue (Hospital). The doctor said I was not insane and I was fit to plea. The judge said I am going to give you a chance because you are a married man and you have a youth. At that time I just got my youth,” Lopez recalled.

He was then referred to the Drug Court. Nonetheless, Lopez was unable to meet the criteria.

“Every single week I failed the urine test, I never pass a urine test. Even when you fail you had to go. They gave you a certain amount of time to get clean. After a month they told me I was not serious about recovering and that I was going back to the judge. I was nervous but I was smoking way too much ganja. It was like, in my mind, honestly, nothing could faze me back then … a prison mi a face,” Lopez explained.

He was brought back before the court and given a non-custodial sentence.

By this time his marriage was in shambles. His wife and son had moved out.

Realising that his addiction had brought nothing but pain, Lopez decided to seek help.

“My wife and I were separated for a good while. During that separation that’s when I realised that it really affected me, because I have a youth. I don’t know if is age now or the fact that I am getting old, it just came to me. I wasn’t making any contribution and is like mi say Jah know star, mi affi do something,” Lopez said, adding that he went to the National Council on Drug Abuse on Molynes Road in St Andrew where he outlined his situation.

About two years ago Lopez made a turnaround in his life.

“I decided that I need a change. I remember that I met Daniel and he was talking about rehabilitation and I went down to the National Council and Drug Abuse in 2016 and talked to him. He said, ‘Hear wah a gwan bredda, I don’t think counseling alone will work for you. You have to go into a rehabilitation, programme.’ He asked if I had a problem with that and I said no,” Lopez explained.

A few days later Lopez packed his toiletries among other things and told his family that he was going to Patricia House.

Patricia House is an intervention programme which meets the needs of drug users and other socially displaced persons living on the street. It is offered through the collaborated efforts of Richmond Fellowship Jamaica and the St Stephen’s United Church.

Lopez, who was obviously not embarrassed by his past, said he was high as a kite when he went to the institution.

Days into the three-month programme, Lopez said he was taught how to be self-reliant.

“I thought I didn’t have any control but it showed me that I do have control over the choice I make. Staying away from the drug it made it easier. I stayed away from the drug for three months and then they tell you what you what you going to face. The stigma from my addiction not going to leave just so,” Lopez explained.

By this time, Lopez said he realised that his addiction was a by-product of his attitude.

“They made me understand that so now, like I said, they retrain the way how I think. So when I am there I have to get up 5 o’clock every morning… every single morning for the three months. You have to exercise for the three months and just that alone in my mind is discipline. It is a good thing. In the beginning I used to curse them religiously. At the time they understood,” Lopez said.

Lopez said that although he has been sober for almost two years, people still see him as an addict.

He pointed out that it takes at least two years for persons who are related to or affiliated with addicts to notice the change.

Since his graduation, Lopez said he has managed to rekindle his relationship with his family.

With excitement plastered across his face an animated Lopez told the Sunday Observer that his Saturdays are dedicated to playing football with his son, who has an interest in the sport.

Reflecting on the pain he had caused his wife Jodane throughout their marriage, Lopez said he’s still puzzled as to why she stuck around.

“I didn’t know that we would reach this point in our relationship where he’s off it. As him finish one you would see him rolling up another one. Him use to smoke it more than how him eat food,” Jodane said, adding that she has seen the changes that but said in the back of her mind she is wondering if he will relapse.