On October 8th, Jamaica’s lawmakers gave the greenlight to a private member’s motion calling for the decriminalisation of ganja (marijuana) following two weeks of rigorous debate which saw members on the government side split on the issue.
Despite sharp divisions among members of parliament (MP) on the controversial issue, at the end of the debate, the motion was passed without a voice of dissent.
Contributing to the debate, Central St James MP Lloyd B. Smith came down on the side of decriminalising the weed but cautioned about the implementation of any such proposed legislation.
Smith suggested that an extensive public-education exercise go with the implementation of proposed ganja law.
“I don’t know if members of this House are aware that there are different types of spliffs. You have sensi, you have low grade, you have high grade, and you have in-between grade,” Smith shared with colleagues.
The MP, who is also deputy Speaker, noted that anecdotal evidence suggests that “the seasoned spliff can have deleterious consequences on the mental acuity of an individual”.
North East St Elizabeth MP Raymond Pryce, who moved the motion, said that if legislation is passed to decriminalise the use of a small portion of ganja, it would not give rise to a “free-for-all regime”.
He suggested that the legislation governing a ban on smoking cigarettes in public spaces could be widened to also include ganja.
Jamaica could give its struggling economy a boost by taking advantage of the fact the island is nearly as famous for its marijuana as it is for beaches, reggae music and world-beating sprinters.
Justice Minister Mark Golding told The Associated Press that the government is aware of legalization efforts elsewhere, and called the issue “dynamic and evolving quickly.”
“We will be reviewing the matter in light of the recent developments in this hemisphere,” Mr Golding said of decriminalization, in an email.
The Ganja Law Reform Coalition, an island group that is calling for the government to decriminalize and regulate pot, is preparing to host an international conference in the capital of Kingston later this month, where topics will include prospects for cannabis commercialization.
Despite its laid-back international image, Jamaica is a conservative, religious place and many people bristle at the country’s Rasta reputation.
Marijuana has been pervasive but prohibited on the island since 1913.
The illicit marijuana crop has declined since the Seventies due to global competition and the US-led war on drugs.
Still, Jamaica is the Caribbean’s leading supplier of pot to the US and tourists often don’t need to look any farther than their hotel lobby for assistance buying weed.
Henry Lowe, a prominent Jamaican scientist who helped develop a cannabis-derived medication to treat glaucoma in the 1980s, said the island could quickly become a hub of marijuana tourism and research.
“People could come down to Jamaica for medical marijuana treatment and health tourism because this has been our tradition, our culture.”
Indentured servants from India are thought to have brought the plant to Jamaica in the 19th century.
Its use as a medicinal herb spread rapidly, with some people using ganja tea to alleviate aches and others using rum-soaked marijuana as a cold remedy.
For now, criminal gangs dominate the island’s marijuana trade, and turf wars fueled in part by pot profits have long plagued gritty parts of Jamaica.
However, advocates say decriminalization or legalization would shift profits away from gangs, freeing money that now goes for arresting and jailing pot users.
Stay tuned, we’ll keep you posted!