Tue | Sep 19, 2017

Legal Scoop | Review of ganja law welcome - Loopholes allow you to possess more than two ounces of the weed legally

Published:Sunday | July 3, 2016 | 7:35 AMShena Stubbs

News came last week that Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton is to order a comprehensive review of the Dangerous Drugs Act (2015) (the ‘Act’) as he argued that the amendments passed by Parliament last year were “rushed and not thought out carefully”.

Any careful review of the act would lead one to agree with the minister that there are some grey areas which need clarification.

The Cannabis Licensing Authority, we have recently been told, has already received more than 200 applications for licences from persons who want to get involved in Jamaica’s ganja industry.

The amendment to the act not only decriminalised the use and possession of small quantities of ganja, but it also opened the door to legally use and possess much larger quantifies and clearly some enterprising Jamaicans are taking advantage of this open door.

Most persons are aware that the changes to the act allowed persons to have two ounces of ganja or less in their possession without being liable to conviction for a criminal offence.

The possession of in excess of two ounces of ganja, however, remains a criminal offence for which one can be charged, convicted and acquire a criminal record, unless exempted. We will explore those exceptions in today’s column.

EXEMPTIONS UNDER THE ACT

The exemptions listed under the Act are all purpose-driven, that is to say, one will escape liability depending on the purpose advanced for having the ganja in their possession. There are really three permitted purposes under the act, namely:

- Possession of ganja for religious purposes as a sacrament in adherence to the Rastafarian faith. -

- Possession of ganja for medical or therapeutic purposes as recommended or prescribed by a registered medical doctor or other health practitioner or class of practitioners approved by the Minister of Health

- Possession of ganja for purposes of scientific research that is conducted by an accredited tertiary institution or is approved by the Scientific Research Council

POSSESSION BY RASTAFARIANS

Rastafarians or persons alleging to be thus, seem to get a free pass under the act:

a) How do you define ‘Rastafarians’ anyway when even Morgan’s Heritage says that you don’t have to dread to be Rasta? And;

b) What is the evidence required to satisfy “sacrament in adherence to the Rastafarian faith anyway”? If, for instance, a ‘Rastafarian’ is found with five ounces of ganja in his possession and alleges that he just bought it for use as a ‘religious sacrament’, what recourse would a police officer have but to let the so-called Rastafarian go?

This group does not need a licence to possess ganja, they are good to go, hence my assertion at the start of this sentence. One wonders, though, whether the police, confronted with a baldheaded man claiming this exemption, would treat him in the same manner as they would a man with locked hair claiming the same exemption.

The jury is out on this issue. However, the truth is that in Jamaica, there are many men and women with locked hair who are no more Rastafarian than the pope and many bald-headed persons who are more Rastafarian than Mutabaruka.

POSSESSION FOR MEDICAL OR THERAPEUTIC PURPOSES

The possession of in excess of two ounces of ganja is also allowed where the use is for medical or therapeutic purposes recommended or prescribed by a registered medical doctor in writing or other health practitioner or class of health practitioners approved by the minister of health for that purpose and published in the Gazette.

A nice little note from your doctor, then, should do the trick; just keep the note on your person, alongside the ganja, in case the police stop you.

POSSESSION FOR SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH

Again, possession in excess of two ounces is allowed where the purpose is for scientific research conducted by a duly accredited tertiary institution or scientific research otherwise approved by the Scientific Research Council, or such other body as the minister may prescribe.

CONCLUSION

It should be noted that while the focus of this week’s column has been on ‘possession’, persons interested in doing more than possessing, for instance, persons interested in cultivating, importing, exporting, manufacturing, or the sale of ganja, in addition to falling within the exempted purposes of

1) medical/therapeutic use or

2) scientific research, must also obtain either a permit, authorisation or licence from the designated person/body identified in the act.

One such designated body under the act is the newly constituted Cannabis Licensing Authority.

Since the ‘legalising of the herb’ was also sold to the populace on the basis of the tremendous economic opportunities to exploited in that sphere, here’s to hoping that those projections will be realised, that many licences will be issued and the foreign exchange will flow.

I also hope that Jamaica will not, because of the legalisation of the herb, become an international pariah, and if it does become a pariah, that it is a very wealthy pariah that is able to provide first-class health care, education and security of person and property to its citizens. Here’s to ganja!

Shena Stubbs is an attorney-at-law and legal commentator. Send feedback to: Email: shena.stubbs@gleanerjm.com. Twitter:@shenastubbs