Thursday | August 16, 2001

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Backing for ganja - Study calls for ease-up on personal use, worship


THE NATIONAL Commission on Ganja has recommended an end to criminal sanctions for adults who use the substance in small quantities for private, personal use, and as a sacrament for religious purposes.

The seven-member Commission, chaired by Professor Barry Chevannes, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of the West Indies (UWI), yesterday made its 74-page report to Prime Minister P. J. Patterson available to the media, advising that ganja use be decriminalised under specific conditions.

The report stressed that decriminalisation should exclude use by minors, or by anyone in public places.

Its recommendation for decriminalisation was heavily influenced by perceived shortcomings in the criminal justice system.

The report argued that it was "unjust" to administer serious punitive sanctions against users of small quantities of the drug, adding that not only have these sanctions resulted in a major source of disrespect and contempt for the entire legal system, but they had failed to serve as a deterrent to ganja use.

"Administering the present laws as they apply to possession and use of small quantities of ganja not only puts an unbearable strain on the relationship of the police with the communities, in particular the male youth, but also ties up the justice system and the work of the police, who could use their time to much greater advantage in the relentless pursuit of crack/cocaine trafficking," the report said.

It further recommended that Jamaica should set up a Cannabis Research Centre to co-ordinate research into all aspects of the substance, and urgently embark on diplomatic initiatives to canvas support for its stance on the substance and influence the international community to re-examine the legal status of cannabis.

Reacting to the Commission's recommendation for decriminalisation last night, Paul Burke, outgoing Chairman of the Peoples National Party (PNP) Region Three, who is a member of the National Alliance for the Legalisation of Ganja, described it as "a step in the right direction, though it's far from what we want".

Mr. Burke denounced the Commission as "a charade" and "a waste of time and taxpayers' money", saying there was no need for nine months of hearings and deliberations on the matter. He also expressed the hope that persons previously convicted of minor ganja offences, will have these convictions wiped from their records.

He said the alliance will continue to agitate for the legalisation of marijuana use, which will allow individuals to grow small amounts of the weed, and permit the licensing of public bars where the drug can be smoked.

Summary of Recommendations by the National Ganja Commission

the amending of relevant laws to decriminalise the use of ganja for private, personal use in small quantities by adults, and decriminalisation for use as a sacrament for religious purposes.

the use of all-media and all-schools education programmes to reduce demand, targeting mainly young people.

intensification of interdiction of large-scale ganja cultivation, and trafficking of all illegal drugs by the security forces.

the establishment of a Cannabis Research Agency in collaboration with other countries to examine its psychological, medical, and economic potential.

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