Ganja law needs police support, says Golding

BY BALFORD HENRY Senior staff reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, May 30, 2015

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Minister of Justice Senator Mark Golding, says that the success of recent changes to the Dangerous Drugs Act, accommodating decriminalising possession of small amounts of ganja, will rely on the judgment and discretion of the police.

"It should be noted that the successful implementation of the new law regarding possession of small quantities will require the exercise of discretion and judgment on the part of the police, which is not an unusual requirement for the police in the performance of their duties," he told the Senate on Friday.


Senator Golding, who was answering questions on the implementation of the recent amendments from Opposition member, Robert Montague, said that in dealing with persons accused of using small amounts of ganja (under two ounces), the police must decide whether or not it is worth pursuing the case in the context of its limited resources.


"My understanding is that they are being developed and have not yet been issued," Golding said in response to Montague's question about the introduction of a ticketing system for persons caught with less than two ounces of ganja.


He said that there are no provisions in the Dangerous Drugs Act concerning verification of persons caught with two ounces or less of "vegetative matter" resembling ganja.


"There are no such provisions, and have never been such provisions, in fact," Senator Golding insisted.


"If the police are seeking to prove in court beyond a reasonable doubt that vegetative matter is ganja, it may be tested in the forensic laboratory and a certificate issued certifying that the test has established that it is ganja," he stated.


However, Golding said that the police are not required to keep the vegetative substance taken from the suspect, but may chose to do so "if they wish to be in a position to prosecute the case successfully", if the ticket is not paid.


"A policy decision may be made by the Jamaica Constabulary Force, in consultation with the Ministry of National Security, as to whether, in the context of limited resources, they wish to dedicate police time and other resources to prosecuting such cases, or instead to dedicate available resources to the fighting of serious crimes," Golding said.


He pointed out that if the accused advises the court that the substance for which he/she has been ticketed is not ganja, the burden would be on the prosecution to establish that the substance was, indeed, ganja: Failing which, the accused would have provided reasonable cause or excuse for not paying the ticket and would not have committed an offence under the Act.


He also noted that the accused person would remain at liberty to satisfy the liability to pay the ticket, at any time before the final adjudication of the proceedings brought for non-payment.


Golding admitted that the police have not been equipped with weighing apparatus in the field and, therefore, are not able to determine, scientifically, the precise weight of the ganja.


"However, two ounces of ganja is substantially more than a large spliff and, in such cases it will be clear, as a practical matter that the amount carried by a person in the field does not exceed two ounces," he explained


"My understanding is that in situations where it may not be clear whether or not the amount of ganja exceeds two ounces, but it is nevertheless reasonable to infer that the ganja is for the person's own personal use, the policy of the ministry of national security is that, rather than expending the police's time and other resources in proceeding with a criminal charge for possession of ganja that will ultimately be unsuccessful if the amount is less than two ounces, the police should proceed on the basis that the amount does not exceed two ounces and may issue a ticket," he said.


He stated that, as is usual, when new laws which affect the police's mode of operation are introduced, the police are sensitised within the context of the relevant policy of the ministry of national security, and operational guidelines are issued to ensure implementation in a manner that meets both the objective of law enforcement and the policy objectives of the new law.


Using the 1999 Drug Court Act as an example, Golding said that where an arresting officer believes that the arrested person is dependent on any drug, he is to include in his report a note of the facts giving rise to that belief, which may result in the person being referred to the Drug Court under the treatment and rehabilitation of offenders provisions of that Act.


He said that sensitising and training will enable the police to make an informed assessment under the amended Dangerous Drugs Act whereby the police, in the case of persons using ganja who are either under the age of 18 or appear to have a dependency, are required to be referred to the National Council on Drug Abuse.





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