Is Jamaica’s New Year’s Resolution to Decriminalize Ganja?

BY AMANDA ELIZABETH PRESTON- The recent U.S. midterm elections gained attention from an unlikely source in the Caribbean Sea. Members of the Jamaican Government and Cannabis Commercial and Medicinal Research Task Force have praised residents of Oregon, Alaska, and Washington, D.C., for voting to legalize recreational marijuana use and possession. Proponents for the decriminalization of marijuana in Jamaica have argued that it is the island’s best shot at increasing revenue and economic growth—an urgent issue to a country whose debt is 141.6% of national GDP.

     While discussions surrounding the possibility of decriminalization are nothing new, they recently caught a special fervor. A number prominent politicians have issued statements promising that marijuana will be decriminalized before the end of 2014. Phillip Paulwell, Minister of Science, Technology, and Mining, vowed that Jamaica would decriminalize marijuana for medical and industrial use, claiming that the country could not afford to be “left behind” on the issue. Mark Golding, Minister of Justice, further expects marijuana to be decriminalized for religious purposes, which would allow Rastafarians on the island to smoke the “holy herb” without fear of arrest. Even Lisa Hanna, Minister of Youth and Culture, used her Instagram account to draw attention to the recent Amendments to the Criminal Records Act, which will expunge the records of persons previously convicted for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

     Their claims may prove to be more than empty promises. 2013 saw the launch of Medicanja, the island’s first medical marijuana company. Even though its regulatory approval from the Ministry of Health is still pending, the company has stated that it has seven products ready and that it will target local and foreign markets alike. The company’s credibility has been crystalized by an investment total to date of $25 million JMD, as well as a former Prime Minister for one of its board members.

     Jamaica’s Cannabis Task Force considers the results of U.S. midterm referendums to be a major boost for their own efforts, as they are a “positive development[]” in the international community’s attitude towards marijuana. They specifically praised comments made by William Brownfield—U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs—in October 2014, which call for a more flexible interpretation of international drug control treaties. Pertinent to the Task Force’s agenda is Brownfield’s belief that it would be unreasonable to condemn a country for experimenting with marijuana legalization when several U.S. states have already done so.

     The Jamaican Cabinet has already approved legislative changes which would decriminalize the possession of marijuana in amounts of two ounces or less, and has crafted provisions for licenses to cultivate, import, export, and distribute the substance for medical and scientific purposes. However, none of Cabinet’s decisions can take effect until they are tabled and passed by Parliament.

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