Jamaica Observer – Media Awareness Project
30. March 2003
Bill to legalise ganja for private use soon
ATTORNEY General A J Nicholson said yesterday that legislation is now being prepared to give effect to the recommendation of a commission, which sat two years ago, for the decriminalisation of marijuana when in private use here.
Nicholson did not say when a Bill will reach Parliament and neither did he give details of the drafting instructions, but stressed that decriminalising marijuana -- called ganja here -- will be within a limited scope.
"Yes, it will, for private use only," he told the Sunday Observer yesterday.
Marijuana is widely used in Jamaica, and is said by Rastafarians to be holy sacrament. But the use of the drug is illegal, for which a person can be fined and, or, jailed.
Additionally, the island is one of the hemisphere's leading exporters of marijuana to the United States, and the Americans have promoted eradication and interdiction efforts in the island.
Earlier, in a speech to the Surrey Chapter of the Lay Magistrate's Association, Nicholson sought to draw a distinction between the historic use of marijuana in Jamaica and the country's more recent role as a trans-shipment point for cocaine and the crime and violence that has come in its wake.
"I am a 1942 model, which means I have been on planet earth for quite sometime and I know that it is only recently that we are having the kind of violent crimes that we are now experiencing," Nicholson told the lay magistrates. "So it couldn't be caused from ganja. The illegal trade in cocaine is what is tearing the heart out of Jamaica."
The Jamaican authorities insist that the country's high level of violent crime is substantially driven by the drug trade, particularly cocaine, because of the high stakes associated with the business.
US and Jamaican law enforcement officials estimate that up to 10 per cent of the cocaine in Colombia, between 100 and 120 tonnes a year, passes through Jamaica on its way to North America and Europe.
In a speech prepared for delivery in Fort Lauderdale, Florida 10 days ago, the national security minister, Peter Phillips, noted that the cocaine transshipped through Jamaica had a street value of between US$3 billion and $3.6 billion, representing between 40 and 50 per cent of Jamaica's gross domestic product (GDP) for 2001.
"In terms of total merchandise trade for 2001, the value of the drug trade was estimated between 65 per cent and 78 per cent of total legitimate trade," Phillips said in his prepared text. "In other words, the drug trade is valued at more than three-quarters of all imports and exports for Jamaica in 2001."
This business, which generated tremendous resources, promoted a demand for high-powered weaponry to protect itself during the transit of drugs through Jamaica.
Clearly, marijuana doesn't carry nearly the same reputation in Jamaica and has substantial folk appeal.
Nearly two years ago, a National Ganja Commission, appointed by Prime Minister P J Patterson, recommended the decriminalisation of the drug, which has deep cultural roots here.
The committee, which was headed by University of the West Indies sociologist, Dr Barry Chevannes, also raised the possibility of the expansion of the use of ganja in pharmacology and in industry.
For instance, in the late 1970s, two UWI researchers developed from marijuana a drug called Canasol for the treatment of glaucoma. Hemp, a type of marijuana plant has several industrial applications, including in the manufacture of rope, cloth and other products.
At the same time, the Chevannes committee recommended that the state start an intensive education drive, especially among young people, to reduce the demand for the drug.
They suggested, too, that the Government attempt to influence the international community to re-examine the status of marijuana and that the police increase their vigilance in destroying large ganja plantations and generally stem the trafficking of illegal drugs.
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