YOUNG men in Jamaica's inner-city communities are being pressured by their peers to begin smoking ganja in their early teens, says Richard Henry, project co-ordinator and counsellor at RISE Life Management Services.
The non-governmental organisation has been working with a number of these youngsters to have them focus on career goals and steer them away from bad influences to prevent them from abusing drugs, Henry told reporters and editors at this week's Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange.
"For young men, smoking marijuana is not just about being deviant. It is, unfortunately, about rites of passage into manhood in some communities", said Henry, who counsels young people in communities such as Parade Gardens, Allman Town and Fletcher's Land in Kingston.
Henry said one 15-year-old boy said he started using ganja after he was told by his peers 'if you are not going to smoke weed, then you are informer. If you are an informer you can't stay here with us.'
The counselor said boys who had no fathers or had no career goals were particularly susceptible to marijuana use.
He said that he discusses career alternatives with the young men and how those plans can be derailed by drug use. "I tell them if you no goals, marijuana is a good road for you. To become a doctor there is no marijuana on that road. You will not make it. You need to finish school; you're going to have to do well on exams, and you're not going to do all of that if you are smoking or drinking, or gambling for that matter", said Henry.
Executive director of RISE Sonita Morin Abrahams noted that there was a huge difference between the male and female population in their attitude towards drug use.
"It is not okay for girls to be smoking ganja and using alcohol in the general public, either by their peers or parents. (However) there is tremendous peer pressure on a young male to smoke weed", she said.
Seventeen-year-old mentor at RISE Alex Newman, meanwhile, encouraged his peers to involve themselves in positive activities to avoid drug use.
"I tell them it's not worth it. They should focus on their school work and get involved in a sport, a youth club or some other activity," he suggested.