Senate passes Bill to amend Dangerous Drugs Act

Story Highlights

  • For Jamaica to reap the benefit of these reform measures, certain things will have to be in place.
  • The changes will enable the use of ganja in religious engagements by stakeholders, such as Rastafarians.

A Bill to amend the Dangerous Drugs Act, to decriminalize ganja for medicinal, religious, scientific and therapeutic purposes, was passed in the Senate on Friday, February 6, with five amendments.

Piloted by Minister of Justice, Senator the Hon. Mark Golding, the Bill seeks to make the possession of small quantities of ganja, amounting to two ounces or less, a non-arrestable but ticketable infraction, attracting a fine payable outside of the court, but not resulting in the possessor attaining a criminal record.

In his contribution,  Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator A.J. Nicholson noted that for Jamaica to reap the benefit of these reform measures, certain things will have to be in place.

“There will have to be no increase in the (illegal) export or transhipment of the drug. If the Bill having been passed and persons believe that this is a wonderful time now to just blow the smoke everywhere, then we could not say that the Bill is fulfilling its true purpose,” Senator Nicholson said.

The legislation prohibits the smoking of ganja in public spaces, subject to specified exemptions.

Senator Nicholson also noted that the passage of the Bill will not do any harm to the international agreements signed by the country with other parties.

The proposed changes to the Act will facilitate ganja being used for therapeutic purposes, as prescribed by a registered practitioner, or for scientific research conducted by an accredited tertiary institution or otherwise approved by the Scientific Research Council (SRC).

The changes will enable the use of ganja in religious engagements by stakeholders, such as Rastafarians. The Bill also makes provisions for the creation of a Cannabis Licensing Authority to regulate the proposed hemp and medicinal ganja industry in Jamaica.

Opposition Senator, Kavan Gayle, said that while ganja has potential benefits, it can also have adverse effects on individuals.

“Marijuana still remains a public health concern. Countries like Jamaica are obligated to cooperate with international and regional drug control strategies. Further research is needed to ascertain the impact of the drug on the Jamaica population,” Senator Gayle said.

He added that a more comprehensive drug policy should be adopted to include more prevention, treatment and other harm reduction strategies.

For his part, Senator Lambert Brown noted that the Bill was long in coming. “We have come a long way in the fight to free the herbs. I want to hail all of those who, despite the persecution over the years, have stood firm. For me this is an important advancement in a long journey,” Senator Brown said.

Closing the debate, Senator  Golding noted that regulations will be required to establish the procedure for how the Minister will exercise his discretion in relation to exempt events, and designating lands for cultivation and for sacramental purposes.

He added that regulations will cover the process for the registration of places of Rastafarian worship, which will be exempt from the public smoking restrictions.

The Minister noted further that these regulations will establish an Advisory Committee comprising respected members of various groups within the Rastafarian community and other suitable persons to advise the Minister on the exercise of his discretion in particular cases.

“This discretion will not be arbitrarily exercised but will be dealt with in a respectful and prudent manner. The regulations for the development of the medical marijuana industry will be developed by the Cannabis Licensing Authority with technical support,” Senator Golding said.

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