Newsbrief: Jamaica Ganja Decrim Moves Toward Parliament Vote 3/5/04

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The Jamaican parliamentary Joint Select Committee examining the recommendations of the National Commission on Ganja has accepted its call for the decriminalization of marijuana possession, and the matter will now come before parliament for a vote. The committee vote came February 25, the Jamaica Observer reported.

The vote before the Jamaican House could come in April, the Observer noted, and members will not be subject to party discipline. Instead of being expected to vote with their party, as is normally the case in parliamentary systems, members will be allowed to have a "conscience vote."

The National Commission headed by Dr. Barry Chevannes recommended nearly two years ago that "the relevant laws be amended so that ganja be decriminalized for the private, personal use of small quantities by adults." The parliamentary committee rejected the commission's recommendation that the sacramental use of ganja be recognized, in part because such use would take place in public, and insisted that any public use of ganja remain illegal.

The committee fended off efforts by Solicitor-General Michael Hylton to frighten it with fears of violating international drug control treaties and an effort by one senator to retreat from decriminalization to reclassifying possession as a minor offense.
In an editorial the next day supporting decriminalization, the Observer asked for clarification on public use. "The truth is that if this is not carefully handled it could end up victimizing the existing victims. Many poor urban youth hardly consider hanging on the street corner in their communities as being an overly public endeavor," the newspaper noted. "Indeed, given the living conditions of many, being on the street is important social space. To put in bluntly, there is hardly anything private and personal about the tenement or a shack on the gully bank."

One pro-reform member, Rep. Delroy Chuck, at least partially addressed that issue. At his insistence, the committee adopted the following recommendation: "The Dangerous Drugs Act be amended so that the use of small quantities of marijuana in public be made a minor offence to be tried in the petty session of the Resident Magistrate's Court." The committee also decided that marijuana possession offenses should not be included in a person's criminal record.

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