Ganja decriminalisation: Three the hard way

Raymond Pryce, Paul Burke, Delano Seiveright found common cause in the long struggle

By Desmond Allen Executive Editor - Special Assignment

Sunday, March 01, 2015

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015 was an especially emotional day for three of the stalwarts who have fought for the decriminalisation of ganja. It was the day the House of Representatives joined the Senate in passing the bill now being called the ganja law.
Raymond Pryce, the People’s National Party member of Parliament for Northeast St Elizabeth and his colleague Paul Burke, PNP general secretary, found common cause with Delano Seiveright who will be seeking a Jamaica Labour Party seat in St Thomas, to keep the issue on the front burner for years.
“Despite the howls of disagreement in the House on January 22, 2013 when I tabled the Motion (to decriminalisation) I knew what I was doing was correct and in the interest of Jamaicans in general (specifically Rastafari and small farmers in rural Jamaica),” said Pryce who was asked by the Jamaica Observer to comment after the House passed the bill.
“The 24 months journey since then (from private Members Motion to Bill being passed) has been one of the most important missions of my life. I thank the people who have literally come out of the wood work, locally and internationally, to collaborate, encourage and support. No one should underestimate the significance of this development. Not only have we decriminalised ganja, we have decriminalised thousands of Jamaicans, giving them an opportunity to become a part of the society into which they were born as equals. No longer as dwellers on the margins and back bushes — but at the centre of society. Where opportunities for enterprise, prosperity or just “lively” without prejudice are theirs to claim and to conquer.
“It is perhaps the most significant development in the Jamaican Parliament since the repeal of the Bastardy Act and the promulgation of the Status of the Children Act. As it removes the ‘access denied’ invisible walls that subjected many Jamaicans to risk and vulnerability, replacing it with ‘access granted’ to entrepreneurship, self actualization and being allowed to be,” said Pryce.
Reluctant to comment on his personal role, but no less overcome with emotion, Burke reminded the Observer that in 1996, 1998 and 1999 when he was chairman of the PNP Region Three, “with overwhelming delegates’ support and minimal opposition on the first two occasions by a few comrades /persons, including only two ministers of government, we successfully passed three resolutions calling for the total decimalisation of ganja for personal use and for possession of uncompressed cannabis under one pound in weight and for the development of a commercial and medicinal industry.
“It was the resolution in 1999, which we originally called for the legalisation of ganja and which I was influenced to amend at the 11th hour,  again to call for  ‘decriminalisation’ with the understanding that the National Commission on Ganja was being established. This resolution was unanimously passed without dissent on that occasion.”
Seiveright said his role began around 2009/2010. “Over that time I got to know Paul Chang, Paul Burke, Lord Anthony Gifford, Miguel Lorne and many others who have been championing reform for decades. I took a keen interest in the significant benefits from criminal justice, economic and scientific standpoints. This was heightened by happenings in the US and elsewhere.
“Later on we reached out internationally and brought to Jamaica a number of international stakeholders who played a big role by adding their perspectives to the issues. Today I am a director of the Cannabis Commercial and Medicinal Research Taskforce. I am happy that we were able to pull together a dynamic and diverse group of persons together to pursue one goal, reform. The effort included politicians from both sides, academics, Rastafarians, business people, future growers, international stakeholders, those who have been victims of the unjust regime, you name it.
“I am particularly impressed with Paul Burke whose approach encouraged respect, unity, discussion, and agreement amongst a coalition of varied personalities. I also have nothing but significant respect for Dr Henry Lowe whose vision, practical engagement, business savvy and zeal-like focus on the medical and scientific side propelled great discourse on the multifaceted benefits of ganja.
“In the end, while we can’t please everyone, this recent development represents a big step forward... especially from a human rights, criminal justice, medical and scientific research standpoint. As we evolve I am sure further amendments will come so that we can really maximise the economic and social development benefits. There is a lot still left to be done,” Seiveright stressed.
Network of ganja advocates
Burke, who is chairman of the National Alliance for the Legalisation of Ganja which wants to go further than decriminalisation, and programme director of the Professor Archie McDonald-led Cannabis Commercial and Medical Research Task Force, issued a news release last week commending the Government and the Parliament for the amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act, highlighted by a provision making possession of two or less ounces of ganja a ticketable offence.
The network of ganja advocates aslo includes the Ganja Future Growers and Producers Association which was established in April 2014 and is chaired by Orville Silvera.
“We strongly commend the Government and Parliament for today’s approval of the amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act, a review of which commenced in Parliament some 38 years ago,” the release said. “We commend in particular, the Minister of Justice Mark Golding who carefully and expeditiously spearheaded the new legislation and Minister Phillip Paulwell, who courageously lent his voice and office to this advocacy many years ago.
“The approval today is a tremendous leap forward for human rights, social justice, health care, and the potential for economic prosperity through the development of a multifaceted cannabis industry and products in food, nutrition, medical cannabis, pharmaceuticals, neutraceuticals, cosmeceuticals, crafts, and clothing.
“...The network of advocates, have always recognised that the present amendments were not ‘picture perfect’, but regard such as a major and significant step forward.  The less than two ounces possession, which now becomes a ticketable offence, is a vast improvement to the current situation, but it is just impractical and will not work. Will members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force now also be armed with scales?
“We also recognise the cruelty unleashed by the State over decades, the imprisonment of so many, largely under inhumane and overcrowded situations for the possession of small amounts of cannabis, the persecution and prosecution of members of the Rastafarian Faith for insistently and courageously using ganja as a sacrament in their worship. This is indeed an indictment on the entire society, especially on our former legislators, who failed to act for whatever reason.
“Furthermore, the denial of the legal use of medical cannabis, in spite of overwhelming evidence over the last 10 years of its potential benefits, was totally indifferent, insensitive and cowardly. Many Jamaicans have suffered tremendously and painfully, because of the inaction of Parliament.
“Therefore, in our view, the State, retroactively, through a member of the current executive, the Cabinet of Jamaica, now needs to do what is right and to make a formal apology to the Jamaican people and in particular, to those of the Rastafarian Faith and to those who were given a criminal record for small possession and for smoking of ganja.
“In terms of the National Alliance for Legalisation, the organisation will commence another level of advocacy once there is the accompanying public education programme, aimed at the total legalisation of the personal use of ganja, in a fully regulated and legalised multifaceted cannabis industry,” said Burke.

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