Pubdate: Sat, 18 Aug 2001
Source: Register-Guard, The (OR)
Copyright: 2001 The Register-Guard
Author: Matthew Rosenberg, The Associated Press
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Cannabis)


KINGSTON, Jamaica - In the heart of Kingston, about a dozen men stand
in an open-air emporium stacking long buds of marijuana even though
the crop is illegal in Jamaica.

"High-grade, the best ... smell it," says a dreadlocked 27-year-old
Rastafarian at the "Luke Lane" market, who gives his name only as Toro
as he holds a bud in the air and beckons to a passer-by. Sale
completed, he lights a joint of rolled marijuana and smiles.

These days, he has a lot to be happy about.

A government commission has recommended that marijuana be legalized
for personal use by adults - a move the government is likely to
endorse despite opposition from the United States, which has spent
millions to eradicate the crop on the Caribbean island.

"(Marijuana's) reputation among the people as a panacea and a
spiritually enhancing substance is so strong that it must be regarded
as culturally entrenched," said the commission's report.

The National Commission on Ganja - as marijuana is known here - also
said Jamaica should allow the use of marijuana for religious purposes.
This is important to the Rastafarian minority, who worship deceased
Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie as a prophet and use marijuana as a

Prime Minister P.J. Patterson last year appointed the commission,
which included academics and doctors. So far, he and elected officials
have not publicly commented on the report. But Ralston Smith, an aide
to Patterson, said: "My gut feeling is that the commission's
recommendations will be followed."

Any change in existing drug laws would have to be approved by
Parliament. And legalization, even for personal use, could cause
friction with the United States and violate the 1988 U.N. Convention
Against the Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic
Substances. Jamaica signed the accord.

"The U.S. opposes the decriminalization of marijuana," Michael
Koplovsky, a U.S. Embassy spokesman, said Thursday.

Over the past 20 years, the United States has worked with Jamaica to
burn marijuana fields and carry out other anti-drug efforts. It has
also provided aid to fight drug trafficking in Jamaica, the
Caribbean's largest marijuana exporter and a major transshipment point
for cocaine bound for Europe and South America.

The commission addressed these concerns in its report, urging the
government to "embark on diplomatic initiatives ... to elicit support
for its internal position and influence the international community to
re-examine the status of cannabis."

Between 1992-98, the United States provided $7.8 million to Jamaica to
eliminate marijuana production and trafficking. The most popular
method has been to chop down the plants and burn the fields.

Indian indentured servants are thought to have brought marijuana to
Jamaica in the 19th century. Its use as a medicinal herb spread
rapidly among plantation workers, with some using ganja tea to
alleviate aches, and others using rum-soaked marijuana as remedy for
coughs and fevers.

But it was not until the 1960s and 1970s, with the rise to popularity
of Bob Marley and other reggae music icons, that marijuana began to
gain acceptance outside poor neighborhoods.

Marijuana's deep roots were clear in Luke Lane after word spread of
the commission's recommendation. Among the patrons was 43-year-old
Horace Clarke, who was also buying school supplies for his three children.

"At night, when the children are sleeping, sometimes I smoke a little
with my lady," Clarke said as he bought a quarter ounce for about $2.50.

The vendors were pleased at the possibility that the it might be legal
to use marijuana, even though selling the drug would remain illegal.

All had stories of being chased by the police, "If you're going to
smoke it, you have to get it and we sell it," said a dealer.

He said he earns about $100 on a good day.

"This money doesn't go out to buy guns, it goes to food that fills the
bellies of my children and puts them in school clothes and pays their
school fees," he said. "What's criminal about that."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Terry Liittschwager