Mario Deane: without the shedding of blood, no redemption of sin?
AS one of the leading proponents of decriminalisation of ganja in this space, we are encouraged by the Government's very sensible decision to end arrests for possession of small amounts of the weed.
Of course, we will continue to lament the fact that these far-reaching decisions have to travel on the backs of extreme tragedy, almost all of which could have been avoided if our governments just had the will to do better by our people. It is to our shame that it took the death of Mario Deane to bring us to this path. Indeed, it is said that without the shedding of blood there is no redemption of sin.
Yet, we are pleased that, even if late, the national security minister has announced that following consultations with the Attorney General's Chambers and the acting police commissioner, it has been decided that the Jamaica Constabulary Force will, where it concerns persons charged with minor offences, such as possession of small quantities of ganja, issue summonses when a Justice of the Peace is available.
If a JP is not available, or if the offender is unable to provide identification or is unable to be identified by other means, he/she may be taken to a police station until identification can be verified, upon which the person should be granted bail on his/her own recognisance.
In exceptional cases, such as an offender being investigated for other serious offences, persons will be given bail with conditions, or be remanded in custody, the minister says.
It is also noteworthy that the minister is also pressing the police force to carry out an immediate and comprehensive review of all the procedures and arrangements governing detentions, with the aim of putting into place the necessary arrangements for the care and protection of persons in police custody.
The halt in the spate of arrests for even a ganja spliff will limit the exposure of first-time offenders and those accused of minor offences to hard core criminals and the harsh environments in many of the island's lock-ups. This feels like justice.
We also endorse the suggestion by North East St Elizabeth Member of Parliament Raymond Pryce who, in welcoming the new development, insists that this is just an interim measure, "a good next step in a process that must include the overhaul of the procedures to determine when a citizen is to be remanded (for however long) and for whichever offence prior to his/her appearance before the court".
Mr Pryce is also correct in calling for other steps to include "the codification of minor offences and a public education campaign...to prevent arbitrariness and or to limit confusion among law enforcement and the public at large".
Jamaica might wish to examine more closely what is happening in Colorado, United States, the first to legalise marijuana and which has been breaking new grounds since. Reports say teen use of ganja has gone down, while tax has increased exponentially, for example. Colorado has set up a legal, regulatory and tax system that has earned it the praise of the prestigious Brookings Institute which described its early implementation efforts as "impressive".