Ganja law passed but awaits regulations
A rastafarian elder saluted members of the House of Representatives from the east end of the visitors' gallery in Gordon House as National Security Minister Peter Bunting on Tuesday closed a near-five-hour-long spirited debate on an amendment to the Dangerous Drugs Act. The law effectively clears the way for the decriminalisation of two ounces of marijuana, making possession a ticketable offence.
Under the amended law, the Rastafarian community will have the opportunity to use ganja as part of its religious sacrament.
Bunting told his parliamentary colleagues that the implementation of the new law would take some time, as regulations would have to be developed and the Cannabis Licensing Authority established. This oversight body would have responsibility for establishing a lawful regulated hemp and medicinal ganja industry.
The authority, with the approval of the justice minister, will make regulations treating with procedures and criteria for applying for and retention of licences, permits and other authorisations for cultivation, processing, distribution, sale and other handling of ganja for medical, therapeutic and scientific purposes.
Delroy Chuck, the member of parliament (MP) for North East St Andrew, said the legislation was crafted in such a way as to allow the Jamaican authorities to "walk between the raindrops" in order to move through the strictures of the international treaties.
The opposition MP said the country should seek to renegotiate some of the international treaties.
"We need to raise it at the United Nations and in other fora to ask whether ganja in particular should not be removed from that schedule of psychotropic drugs," he reasoned.
He said the authorities in the 1950s and 1960s prohibited the use of ganja because they felt that its use by young men was contributing to an increase in violence in the society.
"I know, Mr Speaker, that there are many persons inside here (Parliament) and outside who have taken their spliff and nothing has happened to them, to my knowledge. I know a number of them who are heads of outstanding companies in Jamaica, good legal advocates, even judges who I know in their younger days smoked a spliff."
NO NEED FOR TICKETS
South West St Catherine MP Everald Warmington, in his contribution, said the law was deficient in its current form. He suggested that the Government should go the route of legalising less than two ounces or less than five ganja plants.
"I don't believe that anybody should be issued with a ticket for smoking a spliff Ö ," he said.
On Tuesday, medical practi-tioner Dr Dayton Campbell, who two years ago made a presentation on the deleterious effects of marijuana, said he would not repeat that contribution. However, he urged his parliamentary colleagues not to speak only about the benefits of marijuana but to also highlight the harmful effects of the weed.
He said there is a protocol for dealing with dangerous drugs.
"We have to look at how we are going to store and dispense of the cannabis. If it is classified as a dangerous drug, there is a certain protocol on how you deal with it."
He added: "Persons have somehow confused medical use with personal use because some of the individuals [who] are using it, they weren't diagnosed with any issue to say that marijuana is something that can treat this issue. I have asked if some of them are treating 'pon-di-corner-itis' because I don't know exactly what some of the persons on the corner are treating," he asserted.
Campbell cautioned that lawmakers should make it "crystal clear" that they are not encouraging persons to smoke ganja.
West Central St Catherine MP Dr Kenneth Baugh, who is also a medical practitioner, cautioned fellow lawmakers about building up what he described as "great expectations" in the imple-mentation of the law, saying there were great dangers in liberalising ganja to be used in general.
Calling himself 'Warner Man', Opposition MP Pearnel Charles slammed his colleagues for taking steps to pass the amendment to the Dangerous Drugs Act.
Charles claimed that the legislation was being passed for political gain, noting that legislators would regret to the passage of the statute that would negatively impact the young people of Jamaica.
"It is not a great day for our country; it is not a great day for our children; it is a sad day," Charles lamented.
North East Manchester MP Audley Shaw wanted his colleagues to refer the bill to a joint select committee of Parliament to get feedback from the medical fraternity, religious groups and other Jamaicans who had an interest in the debate.
Richard Parchment, MP for South East St Elizabeth, expressed fears that the "little man" might be shafted as the medical marijuana component and the growing of ganja to supply this industry might not be skewed towards the small farmers.
ROOM FOR EVERYONE
However, Leader of Govern-ment Business Phillip Paulwell assuaged those concerns, noting that there would be room for everyone who had an interest in producing value-added products from the weed.
Tourism Minister Dr Wykeham McNeill said Jamaica's tourism facilities would now be allowed to establish designated areas where persons with the requisite permits can legally use or smoke marijuana for medical purposes. He said this could be part of measures to promote health tourism.
However, former Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett cautioned McNeill, saying the promotion of the use of marijuana under the banner of health tourism could harm the sector.
He said there was a critical niche "that abhors the use of marijuana", noting that you could run the risk of alienating this higher demographic.
The legislation, already passed in the Senate, must receive the governor general's assent before becoming law.