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J'ca's ganja takes centrestage at drug policy meeting in Budapest

BY DESMOND ALLEN Executive editor - special assignment allend@amaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, July 22, 2014    

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JAMAICA'S plan to decriminalise small amounts of ganja later this year has impressed delegates at a conference on Drug Policy and Human Rights now underway in Budapest, Hungary.

Note was taken that Jamaica would become only the first of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) to decriminalise ganja when the legislation is passed, a near certainty because it enjoys bi-parisan support in the parliament.

"As a matter of fact, the question is often asked as to how or why is it that we are only now moving in the direction of formal decriminalisation," said Raymond Pryce, Jamaica and the Caribbean's only representative at the nine-day conference sponsored by the Open Society Foundation at Budapest's Central European University.

Delegates from across the globe on July 14 began discussing thematic areas including the International Treaties and Conventions, the Global War on Drugs, Availability and Accessibility of Essential Medicines, Harm and Addiction Reduction, Models for Decriminalisation, Access Management/Control of Illicit Drugs, among others. The conference ends tomorrow.

Pryce, the North East St Elizabeth MP, is a standout at the conference as the man who moved a private member' motion in the Jamaican Parliament for decriminalisation of marijuana.

But other Jamaican names familiar to delegates include reggae megastar Bob Marley who popularised ganja, Dr Albert Lockhart who, along with the late Dr Manley West, developed ganja-based drugs such as Canasol for treatment of glaucoma and Astmasol for asthma, and Dr Henry Lowe for his outstanding research work and commercial enterprise, based on ganja.

Pryce presented the work of the Barry Chevannes Commission which recommended decriminalisaton of ganja for medicinal purposes.

"Each person, representative, group and or stakeholder in attendance was fully aware that Jamaica has given very strong indications of its decision to decriminalise... There is a high level of support for the decision of the Cabinet to move to what is referred to as 'de jure' decriminalisation," said Pryce.

"This means promulgating actual legislation which sets out the framework of the decriminalisation model being pursued, rather than what is known as 'de facto' decriminalisation which is a framework wherein there is no statute or legislation which sets out the nature of the decriminalisation model. In the latter case, a lot depends on prosecutorial guidance or discretion of law enforcement agents," he told the Jamaica Observer from the conference.

"There is a lot of interest in whether or not (and if so how) Jamaica will look at supply side decriminalisation which is the approach taken in the United Kingdom with respect to opium. (This happens under strict regulation and is linked to a drug company/pharmaceutical which cultivates the poppy plant in the UK for the manufacturing of morphine and other licit opioids).

"The Central Territory State of Australia has also decriminalised the supply side. In other countries such as Portugal only the 'demand' side has been decriminalised. Therefore possession has been decriminalised but cultivation or supply has not been," the MP said.

Pryce's proposal for Jamaica to decriminalise not just possession but also the supply side with respect to specified guidelines that will allow qualified and registered farmers to cultivate, was broadly supported by delegates.

He said he was even more convinced now than before that Jamaican farmers, researchers and entrepreneurs could achieve prosperity from a legitimate ganja sector, while contributing immensely to improving health and wellness solutions to mankind.

"It is key to appreciate that the fact that Jamaica's indigenous Rastafari Religion is recognised, and that our Constitution sets out the Freedom of Association and of Religion as Fundamental Rights -- supply side decriminalisation is an understandable and acceptable approach even within the current UN and related Conventions on Drugs and Narcotics."

As further evidence of the interest Jamaica has generated, Niamh Eastwood, the executive director of a leading publication on drug policy, Release, confirmed in her presentation to the conference that in its next review, there would be a chapter on Jamaica.

Also noteworthy was the fact that there was significant interest and commendation of the recent Caricom Heads of Government decision toward a regional response and plan of action on ganja. Pryce said additional information about this approach "is anxiously being awaited locally and internationally".

Supporters of the reparation campaign would have cheered presenter Kathereine Pettus of the Institute for Palliative Medicine (IPCRC) for her historical perspective on the evolution of the current Drug Policy established by the UN, with respect to the decolonisation of the Global South -- a perspective which places the current international debate on drug policy as a case in point for reparation.

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