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Jamaica to focus on ganja legalisation

BY BALFORD HENRY Observer senior reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, September 01, 2013    

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THE focus of ganja (marijuana) law reform in the region will be on Jamaica for at least the next four weeks.

This was confirmed last week with the visit of Dr Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), the leading body promoting drug policies grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights in the

United States.

Nadelmann spent several days speaking to the media and influential Jamaicans, driving home his message that the war against the use of marijuana is fading, and that Jamaica moving to legalise the drug could be the final volley in the Latin American and Caribbean region.

"I apologise (on behalf of the United States) for the drug war. It was something that we didn't need to militarise. But, now the US is leading the way in reforming the very drug laws which were introduced," Nadelmann told a group of believers inside the PCJ Auditorium in New Kingston on Wednesday.

The audience was not very large but included some influential people supporting legalisation, including Mayor of Kingston Councillor Angela Brown Burke; her husband, Paul Burke; Member of Parliament for South East St Elizabeth Raymond Pryce;

and former G2K President Delano Seiveright.

Nadelmann confirmed that his decades-old campaign for the legalisation of the drug is gaining regional momentum, especially with recent developments including: the US states of Colorado and Washington voting last November to legalise small amounts of marijuana for personal and medical use; the Obama administration's historic decision that the Department of Justice would allow the two states to regulate and implement initiatives to protect the legalised use of marijuana for adults; and Uruguay's lower house passing a marijuana legalisation bill on July 31, bringing the South American nation one step closer to becoming the first to legally regulate production, distribution and sale of

the drug.

According to Nadelmann, most Americans who vote for decriminalisation do not even smoke the drug, but are concerned about the amount of money and time spent by US law enforcement to enforce anti-drug laws, at the expense of serious crimes.

The United Nations says that Uruguay has taken the experimentation to another level, as no other country has seriously considered creating a completely legal, state-managed monopoly for marijuana, or any other substance prohibited by the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on narcotic Drugs.

"Sometimes small countries do great things," Nadelmann noted, in refence to the developments in Uruguay. "If the vote in Uruguay could have had this effect, just imagine what legalisation in Jamaica could do for the region."

According to him, most Americans who vote for decriminalisation do not even use the drug, but are concerned about the amount of money and time spent on enforcing anti-drug laws.

In a significant policy shift by the Obama administration, Attorney General Eric Holder has signaled that the federal government will no longer interfere in states that allow commercial marijuana sales, as long as they were strictly regulated.

The new policy suggests that the US federal government is trying to find a workable balance between federal law prohibiting marijuana use, and the amendments being supported in a growing number of states.

The Department of Justice has also written to prosecutors asking that they do not automatically target marijuana operations, because they operate for profit and on a large scale.

Nadelmann insists that legalisation will not lead to more youths smoking marijuana, but more 40-90 year-olds, including arthritic and other diseased people, using the substance for its medical value.

He thinks that while

most Jamaicans support legalisation, "nobody wants to step out", and the government "fears a call from the US ambsaddaor" if it moves to legalisation.

"Jamaica feels traumatised by my government's policies, and that fear is ingrained in the people's bones and reflexes here," he suggested.

Nadelmann even thinks that the economists at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) understand the financial benefit to struggling nations like Jamaica burdened by debt.

"If you talk with economists at the IMF they agree," he told the audience at the PCJ auditorium.

Jamaicans recall that an attempt by a joint select committee of Parliament in 2003 to reach a decision on the recommendations put forward by the Barry Chevannes-led National Ganja Commission ended abruptly after then Solicitor General Michael Hylton warned that any move to decriminalise the use of ganja in Jamaica, even for 'private, personal use', would place the country at odds with its international treaty obligations on

drug control.

Hylton said that this action would find Jamaica in breach of three international conventions: The Single Convention on Narcotics Drugs, 1961, as amended by the 1972 Protocol (the Single Narcotics Convention), to which Jamaica acceded in 1972; the 1972 Convention on Psycho-tropic Substances, which Jamaica ratified on October 6, 1989 and the 1988 United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, ratified by Jamaica in 1995.

But Nadelmann said that the United States could have been using the drugs issue as a "cynical ploy to advance its own interests".

"It is a global projection of a domestic psychosis," he stated.

He noted that even the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had struck marijuana from its list of banned drugs, and do not test for small doses, anymore.

Jamaica has been pressing ahead with efforts to introduce automatic expungement of certain criminal records, including those of ganja smokers, albeit at a

snail's pace.

In July 2012, Minister of Justice Senator Mark Golding told the Senate that his ministry was reviewing laws relating to criminal records and the issue of automatic expungement of cases involving small quantities of ganja. However, nothing more has been heard since.

"It is obvious that most community leaders are still afraid, but that is shifting pretty quickly," he said.

Nadelmann's visit is a prelude to the staging of the International Cannabis Conference at the Jamaica Conference Centre, downtown Kingston, September 25-28, which will also be supported by the University of the West Indies' Department of Government.

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