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Reverend supports ganja decriminalisation

Published:Monday | December 10, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Reverend Karl Johnson
Reverend Sylvester O'Gilvie

IF JAMAICANS were to be asked to vote whether the use of marijuana should be decriminalised, at least one clergyman would be among those saying aye.

The Reverend Karl Johnson yesterday told The Gleaner that it is time Jamaica move towards decriminalising the use of marijuana.

"I think many of us have long advocated for that in circumstances that would point to marijuana not being used for export," Johnson told The Gleaner yesterday.

His comments come against the background of a Sunday Gleaner article on the weekend in which local parliamentarians have supported a move by two US states, Washington and Colorado, to decriminalise and regulate the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana by adults over 21.

Under the law in both states, the trafficking, growing and selling of marijuana to family members and friends would still be illegal.

Legislators, including Justice Minister Mark Golding, opined that Jamaica could follow suit without any backlash from the US federal government.

Yesterday, Johnson made it clear that he is among those who think the use of the weed should be decriminalised.

"Decriminalisation, in my mind, is a rational step to take," Johnson said, while noting that many youth have had blemishes on their police records because they have been caught using small quantities of marijuana.

According to Johnson, based on literature he has perused, senior contributors to some developed nations would have had these offences on their record had they been caught.

Johnson was quick to distinguish though between decriminalisation and legalisation, and said he was speaking as a citizen, not on behalf of any organisations of which he is a member.

But some clergymen will not be moved. The Reverend Sylvester O'Gilvie, one of the pastors at Church on the Rock, is adamant that even in small amounts, it would not be a good idea to decriminalise the use of ganja.

"I would not support it," he said. "Whatever it is that can destroy the human mind and body, I am against it."

He admitted there was evidence to show that marijuana and other plants could be used for medicinal purposes, which he would support. But for personal use, even small amounts, is a no-no.

"It doesn't matter if it's just an ounce," he said. "Most times people get addicted to any drugs, you started with a small portion."

O'Gilvie opined that there is no guarantee the users will keep within the law either.

"If they get addicted, people will start to store more than just an ounce," he said.

Decriminalisation is a system that punishes offences by means of alternative sentencing to imprisonment or incarceration. In the case of marijuana it is usually limited to possession and growth of small quantities, and the sale of small amounts to adults.

In 2003, a government-appointed commission recommended decriminalisation of marijuana. However, citing possible economic sanctions, successive governments have continued the prohibition.