Fri | Oct 20, 2017

Confusion over ganja law continues

Published:Friday | September 2, 2016 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju
St. Andrew farmer Robert Campbell explains how plans to expand his line of wines which include pimento and pepper elder, to include a cannabis variety now finds him operating in breach of the law.
The Cannabis Tonic Wine marketed under the African Gardens Juices label is prominently displayed along with products from other RADA-registered farmers.
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Some of the prevailing confusion about the full implications of the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act 2015, which allows for decriminalisation of small amounts of ganja for personal use, played out a recent public function hosted by the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) at the Joint Trade Union Development Research Centre at 1a Hope Boulevard, St Andrew.

"I have been able to produce a product which is displayed around the back there - cannabis wine. Now I discover that I'm in trouble with it because the very committee that has been established to find solutions, they now make we the small people a problem. We inna problem now [because] we doing something that is illegal," Robert Campbell told the meeting.

Campbell went on to explain that the ganja used to make the herbal drink was harvested from the five plants cultivated in his yard as allowed under the law. The farmer, whose products were prominently displayed on a table, along with those of other RADA-registered farmers, says he was expanding the range of his wines, which includes pimento and pepper elder and only became aware he was operating in breach of the law about three weeks ago.

UNFAIR TO SMALL FARMERS

This was after the Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA), the government agency responsible for the regulation and development of the country's ganja industry, repeated its warning that the distribution, sale, and purchase of cannabis, cannabis-infused, and cannabis-derived products is still illegal in Jamaica.

Caught off guard, Campbell is blaming the CLA for the suddenness of its action, which he claims is unfair to small farmers.

"The most thing I was expecting is the spirit licence people them to say you making wine so you need a spirit licence. The Cannabis Licensing Authority, which was created to facilitate the small farmer being able to get licences and permits and what have you, they have now become an enemy to us, the small farmers. You nuh just jump out pon we and say you haffi pay so and so. Weh we a go get it from all of a sudden?"

Campbell, who says he markets the cannabis wine along with other products under the African Gardens Juices label, has been openly selling it at public functions.

"Me sell the product, man. Me sell the product locally. You see like how me come here, me have wine for sale right now, but having heard the announcement, I realise seh that now becomes a problem because the announcement is telling us that products that they are aware that people are making out of cannabis - drinks and wines and so on - illegal. And then now me say to myself, my God, a my fault, you know, because I have been to a number of functions put on by SDC (Social Development Commission) and RADA and me even come pon TV a advertise me product," Campbell shared with The Gleaner.

The amendment, which took effect on April 15, 2015, allows for the possession (not smoking) in public of two ounces and less of the herb. Prior to this, possession of ganja - even on private property - as well as smoking could see the offender arrested, charged, and upon conviction, sentenced to a fine and or imprisonment. This conviction would be recorded on the individual's police record.

The significant change to the law is that smoking in public is still illegal and is a ticketable offence - for which the fine can be paid at a tax office in much the same way that a traffic ticket is treated. However, if the ticket is not paid within the prescribed time, non-payment can attract a custodial sentence, which is then recorded on the individual's police record.