Jamaica’s Parliament gave final legislative approval to an act decriminalising marijuana

February 26, 2015 10:01 am

Marijuana has been pervasive but illegal in for decades,
consumed as a medicinal herb, puffed as a sacrament by Rastafarians and
sung about in the island’s famed reggae music.
After many years
of dialogue about the culturally entrenched drug, and emboldened by
changes to drug laws in US states, Jamaica’s Parliament on Tuesday night
gave final legislative approval to an act decriminalising small amounts
of pot and establishing a licensing agency to regulate a lawful medical
marijuana industry.

Legalisation advocate and reggae legend Bunny Wailer smokes a ganja-stuffed pipe during a session in a yard in Kingston, Jamaica. Photo / AP
Legalisation advocate and reggae legend
Bunny Wailer smokes a ganja-stuffed pipe during a session in a yard in
Kingston, Jamaica. Photo / AP

The historic amendments pave the way for a
“cannabis licensing authority” to be established to deal with regulating
the cultivation and distribution of marijuana for medical and
scientific purposes.
Officials say the island’s Governor-General will formally sign it into law in coming days.
In
addition, adherents of the homegrown Rastafari spiritual movement can
now freely use marijuana for sacramental purposes for the first time on
the tropical island where the faith was founded in the 1930s.

The act makes possession of up to 2 ounces of marijuana a
petty offense that could result in a ticket but not in a criminal
record.
Cultivation of five or fewer plants on any premises will be permitted.
And
tourists who are prescribed medical marijuana abroad will soon be able
to apply for permits authorising them to legally buy small amounts of
Jamaican weed, or “ganja” as it is known locally.
Peter Bunting,
the island’s national security minister, said Jamaica has no plans to
soften its stance on transnational drug trafficking or cultivation of
illegal plots.
Jamaica has long been considered the Caribbean’s largest supplier of pot to the US and regional islands.
“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,” Mr Bunting said in Parliament.
William
Brownfield, the US assistant secretary for counter-narcotics affairs,
said days 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 remains against the law.
“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
told AP in an email.
Debate has long raged in Jamaica over
relaxing laws prohibiting ganja, but previous calls to decriminalise
small amounts fizzled out because officials feared they would bring
sanctions from Washington.
Jamaican officials now hope that the
island can 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.
Commerce Minister Anthony Hylton said a
regulated cannabis industry holds “great potential” for Jamaica, where
marijuana has long been grown illegally on mountainsides and marshes.
On
Wednesday, Colorado-based United Cannabis Corp. said it has launched a
partnership with Jamaican agencies to launch a marijuana research and
development facility on the island that they hope will lead to patents
and medical cannabis products.
The move by Jamaican lawmakers adds to an international trend of easing restrictions on marijuana for medical or personal use.
More than 20 US states allow some form of medical marijuana and last year Colorado and Washington legalised personal use.
On Tuesday, Alaska became the third US state to legalise the recreational use of marijuana for adults.
In the Americas, Uruguay last year became the first nation to create a legal marijuana market.
In
Argentina, personal possession of marijuana was decriminalized under a
2009 Supreme Court ruling that jail time for small amounts of drugs
violates the country’s constitution.
A law in Chile permits use of medical marijuana.
Details of Jamaica’s licensing authority and its hoped-for medical marijuana sector need to be refined in coming months.
But Jamaican cannabis crusaders applauded the amendments.
“This
is a big step in the right direction, but there’s still a lot of work
to do,” said Delano Seiveright, director of the Cannabis Commercial and
Medicinal Taskforce.

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