Bill approved to relax ganja possession penalties

Bill approved to relax ganja possession penalties

Friday, June 13, 2014

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JAMAICA'S legislators have approved the amendment of the Dangerous Drugs Act to facilitate the decriminalisation of possession of small amounts of ganja.

The announcement was made by Justice Minister Mark Golding during a press conference at the Office of the Prime Minister in Kingston yesterday.

"Cabinet has approved certain changes to the law relating to ganja. These relate to the possession of small quantities of ganja for personal use, the smoking of ganja in private places and the use of ganja for medical/medicinal purposes," Golding said.

He also announced that Cabinet had also approved the decriminalisation of ganja for religious use and said he hoped the law would be amended by early September.

Golding's announcement came on the heels of recent calls by the Opposition for individuals who are held smoking a spliff to not be given a criminal record.

With the proposed changes, people caught in possession of ganja weighing two ounces or less will not be arrested but will be ticketed and required to pay a fine. These offenders will not be brought before a criminal court or attract a criminal record.

Golding said failure to pay the fine after 30 days will result in a minor offence punishable in a Petty Sessions Court.

The law will allow for individuals held in possession of ganja, such as an adolescent or a person deemed to be totally dependent on the herb, to be taken before the court to be evaluated and referred to the National Council for Drug Abuse for counselling.

He, however, warned that ganja smoking will not be permitted in public spaces.

"Smoking of ganja should be absorbed into the general non-smoking regime, with the same penalty structure, except that the smoking of ganja will be permitted in private places," he said.

Rastafarians have long called for the legalisation of the weed as a sacrament. Yesterday, Golding said that special provisions were being made for the smoking of ganja by Rastafarians in places designated for their religious worship.

"We consider that Jamaica's Parliament, as the promulgator of the Charter of Rights, is in a position to express its conviction that religious use of ganja ought not to be criminalised, given Jamaica's history and prevailing socio-cultural environment," he said.

Ganja has a wide range of medicinal uses, including treatment for people suffering from cancer, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, asthma and epileptic seizures and Golding said the amendment to decriminalise the weed for medicinal purposes would allow people afflicted with these illnesses to stop doing using it illegally.

In addition, the law would also be amended to allow for ganja to be grown for medical and industrial uses.

Golding also said that the State would implement changes to the Criminal Records Act to allow for the expunging of records for individuals held with small amounts of weed and have criminal convictions against their names.

"That Bill will also make consequential amendments to provide that, going forward, these minor ganja offences will not result in a criminal record," he said. "A criminal conviction and the attendant significant adverse consequences are not justifiable for what is a relatively minor offence. A conviction currently prevents a serious impediment to the social and economic advancement of many persons, predominantly young men, who fall afoul of the law in this respect."

The Bill is expected to come into being before Parliament takes its summer break.

Golding, however, warned that the law has not yet been amended and urged the public to respect the current legislation until the changes come into effect.

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