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CARICOM did not consult us on ganja law reform - US

Published:Wednesday | June 25, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Livern Barrett, Gleaner Writer

A SENIOR American diplomat has charged that Jamaica and other Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member states that are now moving to change their marijuana laws did not consult the United States (US) government.

William Brownfield, assistant secretary at the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, conceded that he has had informal talks with some CARICOM states but said those discussions were "not structured as formal dialogue between governments or between international partners".

"To my knowledge, we have not been consulted formally by CARICOM as an institution or, for that matter, its individual member states in terms of our position on marijuana legalisation," Brownfield said during a teleconference with journalists from across the region and the US yesterday.

The assertion by the American official comes nearly four months after Caribbean leaders met in St Vincent to discuss changes to their respective marijuana laws.

Among the proposed changes discussed were the decriminalisation of possession of small amounts of ganja for recreational and religious use and cultivating it for medicinal purposes.

Jamaica went a step further earlier this month when the Portia Simpson Miller-led Cabinet approved proposed changes to the country's drug laws that would decriminalise possession of up to two ounces of marijuana and remove the smoking of ganja, as well as the possession of pipes and other items used in the practice as criminal offences.

NOT EXPECTING BACKLASH

Justice Minister Senator Mark Golding, in announcing the proposed changes, said he did not expect any backlash from international partners, noting that they were in line with the positions adopted by 20 countries and at least 20 American states.

"What we are simply doing is modifying the penalty regime to make it more suitable for our reality in Jamaica and less oppressive of our people. Do I anticipate [fallout with international partners]? I don't think so in light of international trends," he reasoned.

While seemingly agreeing with the Jamaican justice minister, Brownfield noted that marijuana remained a prescribed substance under US Federal laws and that its purchase, sale, consumption, growth, or production remain a federal offence.

The American official also revealed that the Barack Obama administration had developed four basic principles, which he said should help to address the issues surrounding the growing move to legalise marijuana.

Among those principles, he said, were for countries around the world to continue to endorse the United Nations International Drug Conventions of 1961, 1972, and 1988; interpret them with "some degree of flexibility", and show tolerance for different governments that represent various realities producing different national policies.

"I represent a government, two of whose states have decided to legalise marijuana. Forty-eight states and the federal government continue to prescribe it, so if I am not in a position to argue that there must be some room for flexible interpretation [of the UN conventions], I am going to have a very frustrating several years ahead of me," Brownfield posited.

"So long as we stay within the basic international conventions, we have to accept that some countries will prescribe marijuana aggressively, while others, like Uruguay, will legalise it throughout their country," he added.

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com