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Go light on ganja - Calls mount for speedy law reform as Gov't mulls ceasing arrests of smokers

Published:Friday | August 8, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Adrian Frater, News Editor

Western Bureau:

The Government is investigating whether prior to the passing of the legislation to decriminalise small amounts of ganja, persons caught with the drug can be summoned to appear in court rather than be detained.

This follows Wednesday's death of 31-year-old Mario Deane, a construction worker, who was allegedly beaten unconscious while at the Barnett Street Police Station in Montego Bay on Sunday. He died three days later at the Cornwall Regional Hospital without regaining consciousness.

"While INDECOM (Inde-pendent Commission of Investigations) investigates the incident to establish the facts of what took place so that the law can take its course, this tragedy underscores the need for Jamaica to decriminalise the smoking and possession of small quantities of ganja," Justice Minister Mark Golding said in a statement yesterday.

"The Cabinet approved a policy in July, whereby these offences will become non-arrestable infractions that will be dealt with outside the criminal justice system, and the required legislation to address this issue is currently being drafted," he added.

National Security Minister Peter Bunting yesterday requested that Deputy Commissioner of Police Glenmore Hines, the acting commissioner of police, immediately examine the arrangements for supervising detainees so as to ensure the safety of persons taken into the State's custody.

Bunting also called for a review of the approach which sees the police arresting citizens for small quantities of marijuana.

"I have requested [that] the attorney general research the law to see whether, pending an amendment to the law, we can make it the policy of the police to proceed by way of summons in these cases, rather than by way of arrest and detention," Bunting said. "This would be consistent with the stated policy direction of the Government, and help to address the issue of overcrowding in our lock-ups, while reducing the administrative burden to deal with these cases."

Opposition Spokesman on Justice Harold Malcolm condemned the alleged beating which resulted in Deane's death, labelling it as horrific and unacceptable for a modern Jamaican society.

As Deane's family and residents of his home community, Rosemount, who staged a fiery demonstration yesterday demanding justice for him, tried to come to grips with his death, the advocacy group Citizens Action for Principle And Integrity (CAPI) announced it has secured legal representation for the family and will be assisting them in their quest for justice.


"As an organisation, we are going to lead this fight because what happened to young Mario Deane must not be repeated," Dennis Meadows, co-convener of CAPI, said at a press conference in Montego Bay yesterday.

CAPI has retained the services of attorney Lambert Brown, who the organisation previously used to fight for the rights of the Brissett brothers, who were wrongly arrested and charged in the September 2012 Irwin Point rape case in St James. The brothers were exonerated by DNA evidence.

Meadows is also calling for state protection for Castel McKenzie, the man who was about to bail Deane on Sunday when the process was aborted by a policewoman, who reportedly took offence to a comment Deane made.

"Mr McKenzie is a critical potential witness, who is now expressing concerns for his own safety," said Meadows.