Kingston, Jamaica: Government officials last week announced their intent to relax the country's marijuana possession penalties.
In a publicly released statement, Justice Minister Mark Golding said that Parliament would amend the nation's drug laws so that possessing cannabis would no longer be a criminal offense.
"[T]he criminalization of possession of a small quantity of ganja and of smoking ganja has caused significant hardships in Jamaica, particularly among young men," he said. "A conviction for possession or use of ganja results in a criminal record, which often precludes the offender from engaging certain employment, impacts his ability to get visas to travel overseas, and generally limits his life prospects. This is a serious human rights issue, supporting the cry for reform to our laws in this area."
The proposed changes in law will amend Jamaica's Dangerous Drugs Act by eliminating criminal penalties pertaining to the private possession of up to two ounces of cannabis by adults. Rather, such behavior will be reclassified under the law as a "non-arrestable, ticketable infraction ... which does not give rise to a criminal record."
Other proposed changes to the law intend to provide broader protections for those using cannabis for religious or medicinal purposes. "[R]eligious use of ganja ought not to be criminalized, given Jamaica's history and prevailing socio-cultural and economic environment," the Justice Minister said. He added, "It is not only wrong but also foolhardy to continue with a law that makes it illegal to possess ganja and its derivatives for medicinal purposes."
The Justice Minister also said that politicians are backing separate legislation that seeks to expunge the criminal records of those with minor marijuana convictions. Additional legislative efforts are also "underway to develop a legal framework which will allow the emergence of medical ganja and industrial hemp industries in Jamaica," Golding said.
Various Jamaican national commissions have previously called on Parliament to enact similar reforms, but lawmakers in the past have largely ignored their recommendations.
Under present Jamaican law, the possession of 28 grams or less of cannabis is classified as a criminal offense, punishable by arrest, a fine, and potential imprisonment
For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director, or Erik Altieri, NORML Communications Director, at (202) 483-5500.