KINGSTON: Plans are underway to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.
“Cabinet approved certain changes to the law relating to ganja (marijuana). These relate to possession of small quantities of ganja for personal use, the smoking of ganja in private places and the use of ganja for medical-medicinal purposes,” said Justice Minister Mark Golding, as he announced that Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller and her cabinet have decided to amend the Dangerous Drugs Act.
Among the proposals is that users of small quantities of the drug will no longer have a criminal record and smoking marijuana would be lawful under certain conditions. But possession of marijuana would still be unlawful, though it would not lead to a criminal record.
“We are not saying that it is legal to smoke ganja or to possess ganja because it is not and it will not be until the international laws change,” said Golding. “But at this juncture, smoking will only be addressed as an offence if you violate the rules around smoking in public. But possession will remain something that is not lawful and for which you may be given a ticket. That remains an anomaly in the current system but it’s certainly an improvement over what exists now.”
The opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) has approved the move, but it wants the legislative changes to be accompanied by a public education program to provide guidance in respect of the risks of using or abusing marijuana.
JLP spokesperson on Information, Olivia “Babsy” Grange, says this should be the responsibility of the Health Ministry.
While members of the public have reacted positively to the news, the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA) has taken issue with the changes proposed.
The Council is contending that the relaxation of the laws will lead to increased access to the drug and consequently more mental problems for new and existing smokers.
Deputy Chairman of the NCDA Dr. Winston De La Haye argued that the health system is already burdened by patients who have mental illnesses caused, or made worse by ganja. He believes the decision will cost the country in the long term.
“In the southeast region that includes Kingston and St. Andrew, on each night we see four to five patients who need admission with primarily cannabis induced psychosis and we can’t admit them,” said Dr. De La Haye. “The decision made is guaranteed to increase availability and we can expect that in a very short time that more patients are going to come who can’t be admitted anywhere.”
The NCDA’s position on the issue is that decriminalizing marijuana must be for research and medical purposes only.
“The board supports no smoking of anything,” said De La Haye.