The facts about ganja in Jamaica

Sunday, January 21, 2018

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When the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act 2015 came into effect on April 15, 2015, new provisions were put in place regarding the possession and smoking of ganja, use of ganja by persons of the Rastafarian faith, and use of ganja for medical, therapeutic and scientific purposes.

Possession of two ounces or less of ganja is no longer an offence for which one can be arrested, charged and tried in court, and it will not result in a criminal record. The police may issue a ticket to a person in possession of two ounces or less of ganja, similar to a traffic ticket, and the person would have 30 days to pay the sum of $500 (US$4) at any tax office. The ticket is called a “fixed penalty notice” in the DDA. It remains a criminal offence to be in possession of over two ounces of ganja, and offenders can be arrested, charged, tried in court and, if found guilty, sentenced to a fine, or to imprisonment, or both. The conviction would also be recorded on that person's criminal record.

Smoking of ganja in a public place or within five metres of a public place is prohibited in a manner similar to cigarettes. Adherents to the Rastafarian faith will also be permitted to smoke ganja for sacramental purposes in locations registered as places of Rastafarian worship. A person who is suffering from cancer or any other terminal or serious, chronic illness may import medicine or a therapeutic product derived from or containing ganja.

Each household is allowed to legally grow no more than five ganja plants on its premises. If there is more than one household on any premises, each household may grow five ganja plants. Persons 18 years or older who are adherents to the Rastafarian faith, or Rastafarian organisations, may apply for authorisation to cultivate ganja for religious purposes as a sacrament, in adherence to the Rastafarian faith.

The Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA) was created by the Dangerous Drugs Act and has powers to create and oversee the implementation of regulations for licences, permits and other authorisations for the cultivation, processing, distribution, sale and transportation of ganja for medicinal, scientific and therapeutic purposes.

Jamaica is a signatory to the 1961 UN Convention which undertakes to limit the production, manufacture, export, import, distribution, stocks of, trade in and use and possession of controlled drugs so that they are used exclusively for medical and scientific purposes. The production and distribution of controlled substances must be licensed and supervised.

So far the CLA has granted but not issued five licences —three Tier 1 cultivators, a Tier 1 processor, and a retailer.

The CLA has begun work on an Alternative Development Programme (ADP) to provide more inclusion for Jamaica's traditional farmers in the developing ganja industry. The programme aims to prevent and eliminate the illicit cultivation of plants and instead channel them through legal streams. The 1998 Action Plan adopted by the United Nations General Assembly provides for the inclusion of such a programme through specifically designed rural development measures consistent with sustained national economic growth.

Chairperson of the CLA, Hyacinth Lightbourne, said the ADP's introduction, which was approved by Cabinet, is part of the balanced and comprehensive drug control strategy, which started with the decriminalisation of small quantities of ganja, and is also for the issuing of commercial licences.

Lightbourne has acknowledged the prevailing challenges which traditional small farmers, with little or no funding support, encounter in accessing the regulated market.

She said that a number of them have indicated that they might be forced to remain in the illicit market due to the exclusionary nature of the existing regime.

“If traditional farmers are excluded, then one of the fundamental reasons for developing this industry ultimately would have failed, as the programme is intended to provide a legal alternative for those who traditionally cultivate illicit crops,” she emphasised in a release issued by the CLA.

Lightbourne said Jamaica's version will entail community-based organisations/associations guiding and monitoring the establishment of alternative ganja farm markets channelled to licensed processors, adding that “the CLA is not allowed to administer this programme”.

“What we are trying to do, so to speak, is to bring the baby to term and then hand it over...to the community associations...for growth. So the programme would be owned by the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries and the Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprise Unit in particular, (which) would work closely with the CLA and the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA),” she explained.

The programme stipulates: the tagging of plants under a track-and-trace mechanism; sale of products through licensed processors; farmers' alignment to community-based associations/organisations, and accommodating special groups such as the Maroons and Rastafarians; and maximum cultivations not exceeding half an acre per farmer.

Biometric data will be collated on each farmer, who must be registered with RADA, while intermittent reports on community developments must also be submitted to the CLA.

The CLA chair said that consequent on Cabinet's approval of the ADP, the agency will notify the United Nations of the proposed undertaking, and establish a project committee comprising members of the authority and external stakeholders.


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