Wind of change blowing on marijuana legalisation


Sunday, June 15, 2014

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JAMAICA'S decision to decriminalise small quantities of cannabis for personal use has attracted attention here in Britain. The BBC treated the announcement as important news and posted on its website the dramatic headline 'Jamaica Government announces major changes to drug laws'. The Guardian newspaper had the more factual 'Ganja free: Jamaica decriminalises marijuana for personal use'.

Comments online were largely favourable, but many referred to the perception that Jamaica had always been relatively tolerant of marijuana use. One comment was: "Even 20 years ago all you had to do to get stoned in Negril was to stick your head out the window and breathe in. Rasta men, both there and in Kingston, used to walk around with their own personal 'cloud' around them long before Apple".

Another online commenter said: "When I visited Jamaica the porter had slipped a bag into my hand before we were even out of the terminal building. I paid him $50 for a bag that lasted two of us two weeks. I somehow doubt that possession of weed is a law that is particularly actively enforced anyway in Jamaica."

Still another commentator remarked: "While in Jamaica I bought a bud the size of my forearm from a taxi driver for $20. It was one of my favourite vacations. Beautiful people, wonderful atmosphere, and inside of 20 minutes of getting off the plane I had more weed in my carry-on than I did back home."

Yet another online commentator, who was apparently from Jamaica, gave a local perspective when he said: "The biggest thing this decriminalisation does is reduce the potential for police corruption. Tourists and visitors would not be subject to that, so would be unaware. Now the fear of a charge for a small spliff or bag being used against you as a means to extort money from you has been removed from the more corrupt and underpaid of our police."

Jamaica's announcement of limited decriminalisation follows Uruguay unveiling details of how the actual legalisation of marijuana will work in that country. Licensed pharmacies will sell the drug for less than $1 a gramme. Every household will be allowed to grow up to six cannabis plants each, and people will be able to smoke marijuana anywhere that tobacco is smoked.

However, people will not be able to smoke it in the workplace. The new regime will begin in December this year.

Meanwhile in Colorado, where full legislation of retail marijuana came into effect this January, sales and excise taxes on recreational marijuana have already brought in $11 million this year. And the total take of recreation and medical marijuana taxes and fees is nearly $18 million. Interestingly, in Denver, the capital of Colorado, crime has dropped by 10 per cent since marijuana was legalised.

Other American states are looking on with envy at the economic bonanza Colorado has reaped since it legalised recreational marijuana. States that might go down the same path include Alaska, Oregon, Massachusetts, Nevada and Arizona.

No major British political party supports the legalisation of marijuana. Nor do I. But it would appear that in the Americas a wind of change is blowing on marijuana legalisation. If more American states, and South American countries, go down the road of legalisation, how long can Jamaica hold out?

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