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.
The war on cannabis seems to be slowly burning out. On June 12th Jamaica announced that it plans to decriminalise possession of small amounts of the drug. Several countries, including Mexico and Portugal, have already taken this step, and many others are considering it. A handful of other jurisdictions—so far only Uruguay and the states of Colorado and Washington—have taken a different approach, not decriminalising but instead legalising cannabis. Many people mistakenly use the terms “legalisation” and “decriminalisation” interchangeably. What is the difference?
Decriminalisation is only half the answer. As long as supplying drugs remains illegal, the business will remain a criminal monopoly. Jamaica’s gangsters will continue to enjoy total control over the ganja market. They will go on corrupting police, murdering their rivals and pushing their products to children. People who buy cocaine in Portugal face no criminal consequences, but their euros still end up paying the wages of the thugs who saw off heads in Latin America. For the producer countries, going easy on drug-users while insisting that the product remain illegal is the worst of all worlds.