Lawmakers in Jamaica debated a proposal to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use by adults, where many islanders are expressing weariness with current drug policy. There is no bill drafted or vote scheduled, however, and various government administrations have talked about the issue for decades.
A recent study has found that a majority of Jamaica’s population may be in support of relaxing the laws prohibiting the use of marijuana. The study, which was conducted by pollster Don Anderson, reveals that 55 per cent of those interviewed felt that the laws criminalising marijuana should be relaxed. Anderson notes that 55 per cent of respondents also believe that marijuana should be commercialised. (See also: Ganja Medicine: Local doctors approve patients' use of marijuana)
Jamaica is to decriminalise ganja by year end as the government moves to capitalise on the booming marijuana trade internationally, said Science and Technology Minister Phillip Paulwell. The minister confirmed that ganja will be decriminalised this year in keeping with parliamentary approval. Paulwell, late last year, had come out in full support of positive developments in ganja locally and internationally and said that "Jamaica will not be left behind" as interest and movements in ganja law reform and research and development grows rapidly. (See also: Ganja green light this year)
Possession of a mere handful of marijuana has for decades clogged Jamaican courts with petty cases and distracted an undermanned police force from tackling the crime cartels pushing drugs and guns. The recently proposed decriminalisation of marijuana has been long anticipated and much unfulfilled. Fearing those big-stick-wielding neighbours, the United States, would crack Jamaica's backside, politicians have avoided pressing the reset button on a law that has proved unwieldy, expensive and downright stupid. (See also: No fall-out expected from decision on ganja)
Jamaica is known internationally for its marijuana, where its use is culturally entrenched despite being legally banned for 100 years. Previous moves to decriminalize the drug failed to advance because officials feared they would violate international treaties and bring sanctions from Washington. With a number of U.S. states relaxing their marijuana laws Jamaica is rethinking its position. Jamaica’s Cabinet has approved a plan to decriminalize marijuana, including for religious purposes, and legislators are expected to authorize it before the end of the year.
In Jamaica, marijuana, or ganja, as it is more commonly known on the Caribbean island, is used in religious ceremonies by Rastafarians and as a herbal medicine by many others. But it is not just grown for local consumption. According to the US state department, Jamaica remains the largest Caribbean supplier of marijuana to the US as well as other Caribbean islands. Cultivation and import of the drug have been illegal since 1913, although those caught with small amounts are rarely prosecuted.
Chairman of the Cannabis Movement of St Lucia, Andre De Caires, has welcomed Jamaica's decision to give the green light to the so-called Ganja Bill, but chided authorities in St Lucia for dragging their feet on the issue.
Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce, Anthony Hylton, says Jamaica intends to lead a charge in the United Nations to effect changes to the international treaties concerning marijuana. The aim is to change the schedule class of marijuana in light of scientific studies that have proven its therapeutic benefits and medicinal value. "Jamaica intends to participate, and to lead, if necessary, a process in the United Nations to have those treaties amended," Hylton said.
The Government intends to make Jamaica a world leader on the medical uses of marijuana. Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining Phillip Paulwell said marijuana is one of the most researched herbs, and evidence is pointing to a number of medical benefits. "There is now convincing data and evidence to support beneficial effects in relation to glaucoma, epilepsy, eating disorders and several more conditions, especially those affecting the nervous system," Paulwell said while handing over a marijuana research licence to the University of Technology (UTech).