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Senate passes ganja law

Published:Saturday | February 7, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Edmond Campbell, Senior Staff Reporter

A SMALL group from the Rastafarian community watched with keen interest and waited patiently yesterday as the Senate debated for nearly five hours the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act, 2015, which was later passed with five amendments.

The legislation makes the possession of two ounces, or less, of ganja a non-arrestable, but ticketable, offence attracting a fixed monetary penalty. It also will allow for a scheme of licences, permits, and other authorisations which enable the establishment of a lawful, regulated industry for ganja for medical, therapeutic and scientific purposes.

Justice Minister Senator Mark Golding, who piloted the bill, accepted a recommendation from his colleague, Senator KD Knight, to set up an appellate tribunal to review the revocation of the licences of persons who had received permits to grow marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Knight also raised questions about other health professionals, apart from medical practitioners who would be authorised by the minister to prescribe ganja for medicinal purposes. However, in his response, Golding indicated that this facility was not a "free for all", but would allow persons involved in alternative medicine who had knowledge of the use of herbs and other natural products to form themselves into an association and make recommendations for their patients.

He said the health minister would have the responsibility to designate those other classes of health professionals.

Knight expressed concern that he had not heard from the National Council on Drug Abuse, the National Road Safety Council, or the minister of health on this far-reaching piece of legislation.

The senior government lawmaker told his colleagues that he was uncomfortable with a bill to amend the Dangerous Drugs Act to allow for medicinal ganja, adding that a medicinal ganja bill should be introduced.


"It is difficult to amend the Dangerous Drugs Act to allow for a dangerous drug to be used for sacrament. Something is not right. If the drug that you are causing to be used for sacrament is dangerous, then something is wrong," he said.

Knight also took issue with Clause 7 in the bill, which allows the minister to authorise any person who is an adherent to the Rastafarian faith to grow marijuana on lands designated by the minister to grow ganja. "Why is the cultivation of ganja limited to someone of the Rastafarian faith?" he questioned. "There is no good reason," Knight submitted. "Why can't a 'bald head', who sees it as a business opportunity, sell it to the Rastafarian faith to be used as a sacrament?" he further queried.

In his presentation, Leader of Government Business AJ Nicholson said while it is said that the 'herb is for the healing of the nation', many Jamaicans have suffered as a result of the misuse of ganja.

Turning to his portfolio responsibility as foreign affairs minister, Nicholson sought to clear the air on any suggestion that the passage of the bill could disturb international treaties signed by the Jamaican Government. He stressed that the passage of the bill to amend the Dangerous Drugs Act would not do violence to any international treaty or obligations to which the country had signed.

The bill will be debated by members of the House of Representatives in the new parliamentary year. Parliament is expected to be prorogued next week, paving the way for the start of the new parliamentary year, which will see the tabling of the Estimates of Expenditure followed by an examination of the Estimates by the Standing Finance Committee of Parliament. The Budget debate is expected to follow before the ganja debate takes place.