Jamaica Taking Another Look At Marijuana Decriminalization


Photo: Matt Lennert/flickr
A Jamaican farmer in his field of ganja

​Top government officials in Jamaica have said they will review recommendations to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal and religious use in the Caribbean island nation.

Six Cabinet ministers in Prime Minister Bruce Golding’s administration will evaluate a 2001 report by the National Commission for Ganja, reports David McFadden of Bloomberg Businessweek.
The commission, which included academics and doctors and was appointed by a government led by the current opposition party, argued that cannabis was “culturally entrenched” in Jamaica and that moderate use had no negative health effects on most users.

Why now? That’s what observers of the scene are asking themselves. The report in question came out 10 years ago, after all. Why is the Jamaican government is choosing to review the 10-year-old report now, especially since it was sponsored by the opposition party?

Graphic: red bubble

​Rev. Webster Edwards, who served on the commission a decade ago, voiced relief that the report would be reviewed by government officials, and expressed hope that legislators might eventually loosen the laws against marijuana.
“There have been many persons who have been lifelong smokers of ganja who have not moved to harder drugs at all,” Edwards said. “Decriminalizing very, very small quantities will allow persons not to get strikes against them in the justice system.”
Edwards stressed the fact that the report also urged the government to step up operations against large-scale marijuana cultivation in Jamaica. Guess no report is perfect, eh?
Marijuana is widely tolerated in Jamaica, but it remains illegal. Followers of the Rastafarian minority regard ganja as a sacrament and believe it brings them closer to God. Some Jamaicans use cannabis medicinally, as well, brewing it into teas to relieve aches and pains.
Previous efforts to decriminalize marijuana in Jamaica failed because of government fears that doing so would violate international treaties and bring the wrath of the United States down on their heads.
For decades, the U.S. has funded ill-conceived efforts to burn ganja fields in Jamaica, which is the largest producer of cannabis in the Caribbean.
U.S. Embassy officials said they have not been told why the Jamaican government is getting the ganja report back out after 10 years.
“Whatever the impetus, it’s an internal Jamaican issue, and we therefore don’t comment on either the debate or the outcome,” spokeswoman Yolonda Kerney said. But just let Jamaica legalize ganja, and you’ll see plenty of “comment” on that “outcome” when the heavy-handed American drug warriors cut off financial aid.
Many in Jamaica and elsewhere believe that decriminalization, even for personal use, would “create friction” with Washington, D.C., and also violate various international treaties, including the 1988 U.N. Convention Against the Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. Jamaica signed that agreement.
The 2001 commission actually addressed those concerns in its report 10 years ago, asking the government to “embark on diplomatic initiatives … to elicit support for its internal position and influence the international community to re-examine the status of cannabis.”
Dr. Wendel Abel at the University of the West Indies Department of Community Health and Psychiatry said there is “widespread support in Jamaica for decriminalization for private, personal use.”
But he also said he is confident that international treaties would keep Jamaica from decriminalizing.
Any change in drug laws would have to be approved by the Jamaican Parliament.