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Golding clears air on ganja law

Published:Monday | April 6, 2015 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju
Ganja field

In February, the House of Representatives passed the Dangerous Drug (Amendment) Act 2015 which, when it comes into effect, will make the possession of two ounces of ganja a non-arrestable offence.

Instead, possession of such small amounts of 'herb', for which a convicted person would have before incurred a criminal record, will instead be a ticketable infraction, for which he or she will instead pay a fine.

However, recent events would suggest that many persons in Jamaica and abroad are guilty of the misperception that the law, when it comes into effect, will mean that Jamaica is on the way to legalising the use of ganja.

Nothing could be further from the truth, Mark Golding, minister of justice, told The Gleaner recently.

"The whole cultivation and dealing in ganja remains illegal, so the only access that's going to be lawful is the medical side of it, which is a different side altogether," he said.

"What we essentially did was change the penalties relating to possession of small quantities and smoking to make them less punitive, but then it's still unlawful and it's still punishable by, in this case, a ticket. What we are going to be doing is stepping up our public education to discourage vulnerable groups, and, in particular, youngsters, from smoking."

Golding explained further: "I think that there is money to be made by Jamaica in the medical marijuana side of it, the medical industry, which is going to be a regulated industry. That's not about smoking, that's gonna be about producing oils and potions and lotions and so on for treating conditions such as epilepsy and cancer, and so on.

"I think there will be money made there, yes, but not from smoking, recreational stuff, because we haven't legalised recreational ganja in Jamaica. We've just modified the penalties because we had too many kids being arrested and locked up and getting criminal records and so on, and it was a problem."

The justice minister said the evidence clearly shows that prohibition has not worked in Jamaica, where, despite the sanctions, marijuana continues to be widely smoked. In addition to reducing the penalties, the Government is now treating ganja smoking as a public-health issue.

"Previously, there was no public education whatever around ganja, and smoking of ganja is quite prevalent among young people and has been for a long time. Part of the reform is to concentrate on that and put some resources behind that so there can be proper public education, so that vulnerable groups, children in particular and pregnant women and so on, know that smoking is a risky activity and they should not indulge," he explained.

Admitting that he was aware that some persons had misunderstood the recent reforms, Golding said he had been very clear in explaining the new law. However, he acknowledged that there was need to develop a public education programme with two basic thrusts.

To this end, the National Council on Drug Abuse has been contracted to develop the public-health aspect, while the Ministry of Justice will focus on the legal angle, explaining the new law in ways that the average person can understand and appreciate all the implications.