Friday, 13 June 2014 00:00

Some ganja restrictions to be relaxed in Jamaica

The Government of Jamaica has just announced a number of changes to the country's highly restrictive anti-ganja regime, including the decriminalisation of possession of small quantities of the substance.

Justice Minister Mark Golding announced at a press conference on Thursday afternoon that Cabinet had approved a decision to amend the Dangerous Drugs Act to make a ticketable offence the possession of two ounces (0.057 kilogrammes ) or less. This means it will no longer be an arrestable offence, but one which will attract a fine, and will not give rise to a criminal record.

The Dangerous Drugs Act is to be amended to remove the smoking of ganja as an offence and also to remove as offences possession of pipes and other paraphernalia.

Posseesion of ganja (canabis, marijuana) for religious or medicinal uses and scientific research by approved institutions are also to be allowed.

Senator Golding also announced that the government will bring to Parliament bills to amend the Criminal Records (Rehabilitation of Offenders) Act, to provide for the expunging of existing criminal records for possession of small quantities of the substance for smoking.

Records will not be expunged automatically, however, as cases will be referred to the Criminal Records Board to make that determination.

Chevannes Commission

The Changes announced by Senator Golding are largely in keeping with the recommendations of the August 2001 report of the National Commission on Ganja, chaired by Professor Barry Chevannes.

Appointed by the government of Prime Minister P.J Patterson the year before, the Commission's recommendations were never implemented, in part because of pressure from the Government of the United States.

Changing US attitude

In the decade that has passed since then, however, a far more liberal approach has emerged towards the issue in the United States.

On New Year’s Day, 2014, in the state of Colorado, retailers of ganja become eligible, under license, to sell recreational quantities of the substance to purchasers aged 21 years and over.

That landmark day marked the beginning of a normal business culture for the product, in which stores, including thirteen former medicinal marijuana dispensaries, are now able to sell the formerly illegal drug to customers interested in its recreational properties.

The people of Colorado had voted more than a year earlier to make the non-medicinal possession, cultivation and private consumption of cannabis legal and much of that had already taken effect. It is only as of now, however, that the product will be legally sold to the general public and taxed in a system that is similarly to how alcohol is treated.

Nearby Washington State also voted to legalize marijuana at the same time as Colorado in 2012.

Then, also in January, President Obama came out in favour of decriminalisation of the drug and went so far as to voice his support for the states of Colorado and Washington legalizing it for recreational use.

Furthermore, Mr. Obama, in an interview with The New Yorker, offered the view that marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol, although he remains somewhat cautious on legalization, conceding that there are countervailing arguments to be considered.

Nevertheless, regarding the latest development in those two states, he stressed that “it’s important for it to go forward because it’s important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished.”

Jamaican developments

In Jamaica, the pro ganja lobby has been gaining strength, encouraged by developments in the United States and other countries such as Bolivia.

In May, an international conference in Kingston ended with a twelve-point Declaration outlining the measures that the lobbyists want the Government of Jamaica to implement, as a matter of priority.

The Declaration, coming out of the Inaugural Jamaica Cannabis Conference, called for the Government and Parliament of Jamaica to, “with immediate effect,” put in place measures to accomplish the following steps:

1. Immediately expunge the criminal record of all Jamaicans who have been convicted for the smoking and for the possession of small amounts of non-compressed ganja.

2. Amend the relevant laws so that ganja is decriminalized for the private, personal use of small quantities by adults;

3. Fully recognize the sacramental rights of the Rastafari community to use ganja in their homes and places of worship, without prosecution, persecution, harassment and or arrest;

4. That a sustained all-media, all-schools education programme aimed at demand reduction accompany the process of decriminalization, and that its target should be, in the main, young people;

5. Enforce the public no-smoking ban of all substances, a position long advocated by one of our member organizations, the National Alliance for the Legalization of ganja, as far back as 1999;

6. That decriminalization for personal use should strictly exclude smoking by juveniles or by anyone in premises accessible to the public;

7. Establish a properly regulated medical cannabis industry that incorporates cultivation, agro processing and other relevant ingredients critical for its success;

8. Significantly increase the penalties for all illegal exportation and persons found with compressed ganja, so as not to allow this illegality to contaminate the tremendous potential of a regulated medical cannabis industry;

9. Develop effective policy mechanisms so as to give protection and primacy of place to the traditional and small ganja cultivator for a minimum period of at least three years;

10. Encourage control, public education and taxation as important aspects of a regulated medical cannabis industry, and;

11. Give unequivocal support to the all-inclusive and bi-partisan approach to ganja law reform efforts in recent months and years;

12. Continue dialogue through the Ministry of Justice to establish a Reform Action Committee

Source:RJR News


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