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EDITORIAL - Not far enough with ganja plan

Published:Sunday | June 15, 2014 | 12:00 AM

The devil, they say, is in the details. In that regard, we await the specifics of the legislative amendments promised by the justice minister, Mark Golding, to decriminalise the use of marijuana, or, as we call it in Jamaica, ganja.

Nonetheless, this newspaper supports the proposals that have been approved by the Cabinet, and outlined by Mr Golding last week, although we believe that even as an initial step, they do not go far enough.

In so far as we understand the plan, to be given effect by legislation Mr Golding says he will table before Parliament goes on its summer recess, the most fundamental undertaking will be the clearing of criminal records of tens of thousands of people in Jamaica, mostly young men who have been convicted for the possession of small amounts of ganja.

Additionally, people found with up to two ounces will no longer be arrested and taken before the courts on a criminal offence. Rather, they will receive a ticket, against which they will pay a fine, similar to what now obtains for some types of traffic offences.

The first provision, we think, is a big deal. On the second, the administration displays a fretful and illogical caution, the basis of which we cannot account.

On the first point, Mr Golding is right. For as the Chevannes committee highlighted over a decade ago, the use of ganja in Jamaica is culturally widespread, and hauling people, mostly young, before the courts for this and leaving them criminal records that, generally, as Mr Golding put it, impaired their "life prospects". In the larger scheme of things, inconsequential ganja cases help to clog an already overburdened magistracy. Jamaican courts have a backlog of nearly half a million cases.

OPPORTUNITY FOR CORRUPTION

Having acknowledged the Jamaican cultural norms surrounding the use of ganja, and the social and management burdens caused by the criminalisation of these norms, we are surprised that the Government decided to maintain the possession of a small amount of the drug as illegal, even if a decriminalised offence. Further, the proposed ticketing system will likely just replace layers of muddling bureaucracy and opportunity for corruption.

The rationale for this escapes us, especially taken in the context of Mr Golding's statement about considering the "Jamaican reality" and absence of fear the Government has of a blow-back from international partners, including the United States. Indeed, two US states, Washington and Colorado, have fully legalised the use, growth and production, and sale of marijuana and its by-products. In those states, people over the age of 21 can have up to two ounces of ganja for personal use; up to 16 ounces of cannabis-infused products, such as cakes and cookies; and up to 72 ounces of cannabis-infused liquid products: ganja tea, perhaps! In another 16 US states, the medical use of ganja is legal, or the weed is regulated for use in research for the development and/or manufacture of medicinal products.

Against that backdrop, we suggest that the possession of small amounts of ganja for personal use should not be an offence, which, on the face of, would not be out of step with allowing its use as religious sacrament, as appears to be intended by the Government. The administration should also quickly outline a regime for the industrial use and research into ganja.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.