Following months of public and private hearings across the island, the official government appointed National Commission on Ganja has recommended that Jamaica decriminalize the private use of ganja (marijuana) by adults and the sacramental use for religious purposes. "Marijuana's reputation among the people as a panacea and a spiritually enhancing substance is so strong that it must be regarded as culturally entrenched," said the commission's report.
Prime Minister P.J. Patterson established the governmental commission nine months ago, appointing the dean of social sciences at Kingston's University of the West Indies, Professor Barry Chevannes, to head the seven-member commission.
Between 20 and 40 percent of the country's 2.6 million people are believed to smoke marijuana, many openly. Indian indentured servants are thought to have brought marijuana to Jamaica in the 19th century. Its use as a medicinal herb spread rapidly among plantation workers, with some using ganja tea to alleviate aches, and others using rum-soaked marijuana as remedy for coughs and fevers. But it was not until the 1960s and 1970s, with the emergence of Bob Marley and other reggae bands, that marijuana began to gain acceptance outside poor neighborhoods.
Not all observers were satisfied with the commission's recommendations. "Ganja offenses have clogged up the court system for years and diverted the police from the real problems, which are crack and cocaine," said Paul Burke, a high-ranking member of the ruling People's National Party. "It (the commission's report) is a welcome step," Burke added," but it is far short for a country where thousands of people use ganja. It's part of the culture."
Any change in existing law would have to be approved by Parliament. An aide to the Prime Minister said that while few elected officials have yet to comment on the report, "My gut feeling is that the commission's recommendation will be followed."
To no one's surprise, a U.S. Embassy spokesman issued a statement saying "The U.S. opposes the decriminalization of marijuana."
For more information, please contact Jamaica NORML Director Paul Chang, or NORML Foundation Executive Director Allen St. Pierre at 202-483-8751.