Letter of the Day: You can fight ganja ticket in the courts
THE EDITOR, Sir:
Mr Owen S. Crosbie, attorney-at-law, in his letter published in The Gleaner of April 16, 2015, indicated his views on aspects of the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act 2015 that came into force on Wednesday, April 15. I wish to respond to two matters raised in that letter.
I will deal first with the substantive concern raised by Mr Crosbie, which was that the new provisions relating to possession of two ounces or less of ganja create a conclusive presumption that the matter with which the person was found is ganja.
The new act is not intended to, and does not, create any such presumption.
Indeed, a person wishing to challenge the issuing of a ticket to him has the right to do so in the Petty Sessions Court. Furthermore, Section 27 of the principal act (the Dangerous Drugs Act) has not been amended or repealed, and there is nothing to prevent anyone disputing whether the substance in question is ganja from making use of that provision.
It is important to understand what the new provisions in relation to the possession of two ounces or less of ganja in fact provide. I will, therefore, briefly summarise their effect.
The amendments provide that, if a person is found with up to two ounces of ganja in his possession, it is no longer an offence for which he can be arrested, charged and required to go to court, and it no longer results in his getting a criminal record. This is also true of a person found smoking ganja in a public place.
The police may instead issue him a ticket, similar to a traffic ticket, and the person then has 30 days to pay the sum of $500 at any tax office. If the ticket is not paid within that period, the person may be required to attend the Petty Sessions Court, and if he has no reasonable cause or excuse for his failure to pay the ticket, he is liable to be ordered to do community service or to pay a fine of $2,000 for non-payment of the ticket.
A person who wishes to challenge the issuance of the ticket can, therefore, opt to go the Petty Sessions Court and state his case. It is only where the Petty Sessions Court finds that there is no reasonable cause or excuse for the person's failure to pay the $500 ticket that he will be liable to community service or to pay a $2,000 fine.
Plain English explanation of law
I should clarify another matter raised in Mr Crosbie's letter. My reference in the radio interview on News Talk Radio was specifically to the fact sheet that has been prepared by the Ministry of Justice and is found on the ministry's website (www.moj.gov.jm).
The fact sheet sets out the effect of the new ganja provisions, in summary form and in plain English, and is designed to assist the public to understand the new law, in particular persons who may struggle with the style of language used in the statute itself.
The Ministry of Justice's website also provides ready access to the statutes contained in the updated Revised Laws of Jamaica. Legislation that has recently been tabled or passed in Parliament and is not yet in the Revised Laws of Jamaica may be accessed on Parliament's website (www.japarliament.gov.jm), and there is a link in the ministry's website that takes you to Parliament's website.
Since I received a copy of Mr Crosbie's letter and discussed the matter with him, the ministry has also placed the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act 2015 on its website, to accompany the fact sheet. I thank Mr Crosbie for his enduring interest in the law, as it is his letter that has prompted us to do this.
I encourage the public to obtain a copy of the fact sheet and the new act and become acquainted with the new legal regime relating to the possession and use of ganja.
Minister of Justice