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Gov't could expunge records for minor ganja offences

BY BALFORD HENRY Observer writer balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, July 01, 2012    

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JAMAICA is pressing ahead with efforts to introduce automatic expungement of certain criminal records, including those of ganja smokers.

Minister of Justice Senator Mark Golding told the Senate on Friday that his ministry is reviewing the laws relating to criminal records, and would also be looking at the issue of automatic expungement of those cases involving small quantities of ganja as a result.

"We are going to be looking at automatic expungement of all the historical records of persons who have been convicted for small quanities, or smoking ganja," the minister said.

"I have the policy documents on my desk. I got them this week from the legal reform unit of the ministry," he added.

He also announced that he is considering bringing back the 2001 report of a commission on ganja, which was headed by the late Professor Barry Chevannes, back for consideration during the debate on the issue.

Golding recalled that the previous Government had set in motion plans to transfer cases involving possession of small amounts of ganja to the petty sessions court.

Former Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck told Parliament last November that persons held with as much as eight ounces of ganja could have their cases referred to the petty sessions court for adjudication, while cases with more flagrant and indiscriminate use would continue to go to the Resident Magistrate's court. He said that this was a calculated attempt to increase efficiencies in prosecuting and treating drug offenders.

Golding said Friday that the debate on expungement would be widened to look at a broader policy to deal with that issue as well.

He was responding to questions from Opposition senators Tom Tavares Finson and Arthur Williams, who had expressed concern about the number of young Jamaican men who have established criminal records for using ganja in relatively minute quantities.

Senator Tavares Finson said that his information was that as many as 300 young men per week were being found guilty of using the weed, in the RM courts, which was affecting their access to gainful employment, their joining the security forces, or migrating.

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