Progress in Ganja Law Reform

Administrator on September 29, 2014, 11:03 am 691 3
Progress in Ganja Law Reform

The voices calling for reforms in the law governing the use of ganja by Jamaicans has risen to a crescendo over the past year. Most advocates argue that it is about time that Jamaica join other, progressive, countries in repealing the current laws and "free the weed". The beating death of 31-year old Mario Deane while in police custody had also reminded the public about the reason for re-examining the laws on ganja as Mr. Deane met his death after being arrested for a small quantity of the herb. Even before Mr. Deane's untimely demise, the Government of Jamaica has been actively debating the proposed changes to the legislation to allow the decriminalisation of the possession, smoking and other use of small quantities of ganja.

The Justice Minister's statement in Parliament outlined the government's efforts to review legislation to allow the decriminalisation of ganja in small amounts. The question of Jamaica adopting ganja decriminalisation is not a new one for as far back as 1977 a Parliamentary Joint Select Committee had reviewed the legislation governing ganja use but did not recommend legalisation. Instead that Joint Select Committee noted a "substantial case for decriminalisation for personal / private use" and recommended that no penalty should apply for quantities up to two ounces. That same Committee also recommended that medical prescription of marijuana should be allowed by law. More than 20 years later another review, the National Commission on Ganja led by the late Barry Chevannes, was commissioned and the final report of 2001 made a number of recommendations including the decriminalisation of the private use by adults of marijuana in small quantities; the decriminalisation of ganja use as religious sacraments; the establishment of an agency for Cannabis Research; and the conduct of public education against ganja use among young people.

Even as the GOJ moves ahead toward decriminalisation of certain aspects of marijuana use it remains mindful of the International conventions to which Jamaica is a signatory. These agreements that Jamaica must be mindful not to breach include the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drug and the 1972 Protocol Amending the Single Convention, the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances, and the 1988 UN Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. Any changes in the laws relating to the use of ganja in Jamaica must still adhere to these and other international agreements. Jamaica has however taken its cue from other countries that have acted to decriminalise marijuana under certain circumstances. Canada and about 20 states in the US have decriminalised marijuana for medical use, while the private use of the plant is allowed in Argentina, Australia, Portugal, the Netherlands, India, Ecuador, and Uruguay. Even Colorado and Washington in the United States have allowed the private use by adults of small quantities of marijuana.

Jamaica therefore supported, among other things, the decriminalisation of the private use by adults of small quantities of ganja; marijuana for research and medicine; the treatment of certain ganja offences as ticketable infractions to be addressed outside of the formal court system; ganja use for religious and prescribed therapeutic purposes; and the expungement of criminal records of persons convicted of ganja offences. These reforms are not here yet but their arrival appear imminent. Until then the current laws against ganja remain in force so persons must continue to obey them.

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