Jamaica: Ganja Decrim Goes to Parliament 2/15/02

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Complaining about a hypocritical world where marijuana is banned, legendary reggae performer Peter Tosh once sang "Jah herb make you a criminal," but maybe not for long in Tosh's Jamaican birthplace. Legal ganja-smoking in the land of reggae and rastas this week moved one step closer to reality. The government of Jamaican Prime Minister PJ Patterson announced Monday that it had approved and was forwarding to parliament a recommendation that the personal and religious use of marijuana be decriminalized.

The recommendation for decrim came from the National Commission on Ganja, led by professor Barry Chevannes (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/200.html#ganjacommission). The commission presented its report to the government last August after hearing hundreds of witnesses in months of hearings across the Caribbean island. Having considered the recommendation for months and having overcome internal opposition within the Patterson government, the cabinet has acted. Now the recommendation will go to a yet-to-be-appointed select parliamentary committee, which will examine its findings and make a report to parliament. There is as yet no timetable for the parliamentary committee to finish its work.

While calling for the decriminalization of marijuana use for adults, the commission said that cultivation and export of the herb should remain illegal. It also said decriminalization should not apply to minors and that public use should be barred.

"We expect that all the recommendations in this report will be examined by the joint select committee and they will report in Parliament and then we will vote on the issues," Information Minister Colin Campbell told the Jamaica Gleaner.

The ganja commission stated bluntly: "The overwhelming majority share the view that ganja should be decriminalized for personal, private use. The prosecution of simple possession for personal use itself diverts the justice system from what ought to be a primary goal, namely the suppression of the criminal trafficking in substances, such as crack cocaine, that are ravaging urban and rural communities with addiction and corrupting otherwise productive people."

The commission also found that between 20% and 40% of Jamaicans smoke the weed, including members of the Rastafarian faith, who use it as a sacrament, and ganja's "reputation among the people as a panacea and a spiritually enhancing substance is so strong it must be regarded as culturally entrenched."

Entrenched as ganja-smoking may be in Jamaica, it is still unacceptable to that looming presence from the north, the US. The US embassy in Kingston reacted last August to the commission's recommendations by threatening to decertify Jamaica. While it has been quiet on the topic since then, the US can be counted on to weigh in against decrim if it appears to be progressing. Decriminalization is one step closer, but there are battles still to be won.

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Issue #224, 2/15/02 Feds Raid San Francisco Medical Marijuana Operations, City Officials Join Angry Protests as DEA Head Speaks Same Day | Genesis of the 6th Street Raid: Business as Usual for the DEA, Plus Help from Within | Philippines Proposes Death Sentence for Ecstasy, LSD Possession | Jamaica: Ganja Decrim Goes to Parliament | Half of Governor Johnson's Drug Reform Package Passes as Brief New Mexico Legislative Session Ends | Bolivian Government Signs Agreement With Coca Growers | Flood of Caribbean Drug Mules Overwhelming European Authorities | Marco Pannella Acquitted on Hashish Civil Disobedience Charge | Alerts: HEA, Bolivia, DEA Hemp Ban, SuperBowl Ad, Ecstasy Legislation, Mandatory Minimums, Medical Marijuana, Virginia | The Reformer's Calendar

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