Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Letter of the day: Create provision against conclusive presumption in ganja laws

Published:Thursday | April 16, 2015 | 4:00 AM

Read Justice Minister Mark Golding's reply at http://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/letters/20150418/letter-day-you-can-f...

 THE EDITOR, Sir:

On Tuesday night, I heard Minister of Justice Mark Golding in an interview with Senator Lambert Brown on News Talk saying that amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act touching and concerning in particular possession of ganja would take effect yesterday and the amendment is on the Ministry of Justice website. I have not found it on the website at the time of writing this.

The minister said the amendment includes a fine of $500 for possession of a maximum of two ounces of ganja payable on a ticket within 30 days, and if the fine is not paid, the offender will be liable to pay $2,000 in a court of Petty Session. My concern is that the amendment creates a conclusive presumption that the matter found is ganja, whereas no such conclusive presumption can arise in the light of the following:

Section 2 of the Dangerous Drugs Act defines ganja thus: "ganja" includes all parts of the plant known as cannabis sativa from which the resin has not been extracted and includes an resin obtained from that plant, but does not include medicinal preparations made from that plant.

Section 27 says: In any proceedings against any person for an offence against this act, the production of a certificate signed by a government chemist or any analyst designated under the provisions of section 17 of the Food and Drugs Act, shall be sufficient evidence of all the facts therein stated, unless the person charged requires that the government chemist or any analyst be summoned as a witness, when in such case the court shall cause him to attend and give evidence in the same way as any other witness.

Shortly after the act was amended to give effect to imprisonment of a minimum of 18 months at hard labour for possession of even the smallest amount, a very poor man with an unemployed wife and many children was charged before the Frankfield Resident Magistrate's Court for possession of a very small amount found in a cigarette box. The injustice of the law and the social condition of the accused impelled me to represent him for nothing. I relied on the above provisions of Sections 2 and 27 and had the government analyst come to court and they were cross-examined by me. At the conclusion of my cross-examination, which continued from Frankfield to May Pen Resident Magistrate's courts, the learned resident magistrate said it must have been flowers the analyst found and so the man was acquitted.

The analyst, who I will name Dr X, said he would never touch any more exhibits in which I was involved.

Need I say more than to ask that Parliament factor Sections 2 and 27 and create provision against conclusive presumption that what is found by the police is ganja and not deny the defendant the right created under Sections 2 and 27 before the sanctions of fine and criminal record for not paying the $500 as pronounced by the minister on News Talk.

Owen S. Crosbie

Attorney/barrister-at-law