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Charging people for ganja use is a serious human-rights issue - attorney

Published:Thursday | August 29, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Lord Anthony Gifford-Rudolph Brown/Photographer

Jodi-Ann Gilpin, Gleaner Writer

When hundreds of people are hauled before the courts weekly for ganja use, when they are jailed or asked to pay a fine, or when Rastafarians are arrested for using the herb as sacrament, attorney-at-law Lord Anthony Gifford has a problem with it. To him, charging people for ganja use is a serious human-rights issue.

Speaking at a Gleaner Editors' Forum at the newspaper's North Street offices in Kingston yesterday, he said the time has come to look at the real benefits of the substance and be practical.

"I see this as a serious human-rights issue," he told the forum.

He said criminal law should intervene to prevent people from harming each other and to punish them when they do. However, it should not interfere where a substance is responsibly used and no one is harmed.

He continued: "This is not just a philosophical question; it is a real issue. We practice in the courts and we see people (ganja users) being processed every day.

"A study shows that close to 300 people or more are being processed in the Half-Way Tree court weekly who are not criminals."


Gifford also pointed to the unfair treatment being meted out to ganja users on a daily basis.

"They are viewed as some hostile persons and are accused of disrespecting the law because the law has disrespected them.

"These people are arrested, put in jail overnight, sometimes longer, pay a fine, and those are the persons I think about mainly when I talk about the human-rights aspect. I also talk about the Rastafarians, who use this as a sacrament," he said.

He, therefore, called for a change in the mindset of policymakers, adding that the benefits are significant.

"The world is changing, public opinion is changing, states and countries have legalised it (ganja), or are in the process of changing it, and I think Jamaica needs to be in there and get with it!" he exclaimed.