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Jamaica decriminalises marijuana

The Guardian

Wednesday 25 Feb 2015

Lawmakers pass anticipated legislation that reduces possession of small quantities to a petty offence and paves way for medical cannabis industry

Jamaican lawmakers have passed an act to decriminalise small amounts of marijuana and establish a licensing agency to regulate a lawful medical cannabis industry on the island.

After several hours of debate legislators in the lower house on Tuesday gave final passage to drug law amendments that make possession of up to 2oz (56.6g) of marijuana a petty offence that would not result in a criminal record. Cultivation of five or fewer plants on any premises would be permitted in Jamaica, where the drug has long been culturally entrenched but illegal.

The law paves the way for a licensing authority to be set up to deal with regulations on cultivation and distribution of marijuana for medical, scientific and therapeutic purposes.

Rastafarians can also legally use marijuana for religious purposes for the first time on the island where the spiritual movement was founded in the 1930s. Tourists prescribed medical marijuana abroad will be able to apply for permits at a cost authorising them to legally buy small amounts of “ganja”, as it is known locally.

Peter Bunting, the island’s national security minister, said the Jamaican government did not plan to soften its stance on transnational drug trafficking or cultivation of illegal plots.

“The passage of this legislation does not create a free-for-all in the growing, transporting, dealing or exporting of ganja. The security forces will continue to rigorously enforce Jamaican law consistent with our international treaty obligations,” Bunting said in parliament.

William Brownfield, the US assistant secretary for counter-narcotics affairs, said before the vote that “Jamaican law is of course Jamaica’s own business and Jamaica’s sovereign decision”. But he noted that the trafficking of marijuana into the US remained illegal.

“We expect that Jamaica and all states party to the UN drug conventions will uphold their obligations, including a firm commitment to combating and dismantling criminal organisations involved in drug trafficking,” he said.

For decades debate has raged in Jamaica over relaxing laws prohibiting ganja. Previous efforts to decriminalise small amounts have been scuttled because officials feared they would violate international treaties and bring sanctions from Washington.

But after changes in other countries, Jamaican officials hope the island could become a player in the nascent medical marijuana industry, health tourism and the development of innovative pot-derived items. Local scientists already have a history of creating marijuana-derived products, such as “Canasol”, which helps relieve pressure in the eyes of glaucoma patients.

On Tuesday the Jamaican commerce minister, Anthony Hylton, said the industry held “great potential” for Jamaica, which is labouring under its latest loan programme with the International Monetary Fund.

On Tuesday Alaska became the third US state to legalise the recreational use of marijuana for adults. More than 20 US states allow some form of medical marijuana and in 2014 Colorado and Washington legalised personal use.

Elsewhere in the Americas, Uruguay in 2014 became the first nation to create a legal marijuana market. In Argentina personal possession was decriminalised under a 2009 supreme court ruling that jail time for small amounts of drugs violated the country’s constitution.




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