Pubdate: Thu, 11 Dec 2003
Source: Jamaica Observer (Jamaica)
Copyright: 2003 The Jamaica Observer Ltd,
Author: Balford Henry
Bookmark: (Cannabis)


Solicitor General Warns That Country Could Face Sanctions If Drug
Allowed For Personal Use

Solicitor General Michael Hylton yesterday warned parliamentarians
studying the ganja issue that Jamaica would breach international
obligations and face tough US sanctions, if the drug is

Hylton told a meeting of the Joint Select Committee of Parliament
studying the National Ganja Commission report, that although
Parliament could pass amendments to remove the constitutional bar to
decriminalisation it would, in all likelihood, breach international
obligations in respect of drug control.

"If recommendation one is implemented, and the Dangerous Drugs Act is
amended to decriminalise the private, personal use of marijuana in
small quantities, Jamaica would, in all likelihood, be in breach of
certain international obligations in respect of drug control," he
said. Recommendation one of the Ganja Commission's report asked that,
"the relevant laws be amended so that ganja can be decriminalised for
the private, personal use of small quantities by adults."

The statement landed like a spanner in the works of the
parliamentarians who seemed on track to some sort of consensus on, at
least, decriminalisation.

Committee members Senator Trevor Munroe; Dr Patrick Harris (Northern
Trelawny) and Mike Henry (Central Clarendon) sought loopholes around
the conventions and the threat of sanctions, but Hylton could only
offer them the consequences.

Questions were also raised by Dr Ken Baugh (West Central St
Catherine); Sharon Hay-Webster (South Central Clarendon) and Senator
Shirley Williams.

"Jamaica would, in my view, be in breach of its international
obligations if Parliament were to implement recommendation one of the
Ganja Commission's recommendations," Hylton insisted. "The country
could conceivably decriminalise marijuana use, but as the relevant
conventions require possession, purchase, cultivation and the supply
factors to be subjected to the criminal law, it is not clear how the
recommendation would work in practice," he added.

Henry suggested that it may be best that the committee sign off on its
report, immediately, and move to a "conscience vote" on the issue in
Parliament as soon as possible. But chairman Morais Guy, and Dr Munroe
felt that it would be better to seek a consensus that could guide the
final debate.

Hylton said that the problem was with the three recommendations for
decriminalisation. The other two concerned decriminalisation for
personal use, except by juveniles and in premises accessible to the
public, and for use of ganja as a sacrament for religious purposes.

The United States Government is opposed to the decriminalisation of
ganja. Embassy spokeswoman, Orna Bloom, has been quoted as saying that
it could create "the perception, especially to our youth, that
marijuana is not harmful, which could lead to an increase in its use".

Hylton, in explaining decertification in this context, said that the
United States Government policy under the Foreign Assistance Act of
1961, requires the president to take steps to decertify countries
categorised as major illicit drug producing and/or drug transit
countries. He noted that Jamaica was already listed among the major
Illicit drug producing and drug transit countries.

"Thus, if Jamaica were to decriminalise marijuana for personal use,
there would be a distinct risk that the country would be subject to
the sanctions associated with decertification," he said,. The
sanctions, he added, would be significant.

The solicitor general also told the committee that Jamaica is
currently a party to three international conventions concerning
illicit drugs:

* The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, as amended by its
1972 Protocol (the Single Narcotics Convention). Jamaica acceded to
that treaty on October 6, 1989 and today over 155 states are parties

* The Convention on Psychiatropic Substances, 1971. Jamaica acceded to
this treaty on October 6, 1989. Today, over 160 states are parties

* The United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic
Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, 1988. Jamaica acceded to this
treaty on December 29, 1995. Today more than 150 states are parties

Hylton said that all three conventions adopt a restrictive approach to
marijuana use and, in the interest of brevity, illustrated how
implementation of the Ganja Commission's first recommendation would
cause Jamaica to be in breach of the Singles Narcotics

He said that the convention, which lists ganja as a prohibitive drug,
seeks to expressly "limit exclusively to medical and scientific
purposes, the production, manufacture, export, import, distribution
of, trade in, use and possession of drugs". Language, which he said,
clearly indicated that ganja use was not encouraged by the treaty.

The convention, he added, states that subject to constitutional
limitations, each party must adopt measures to ensure that
cultivation, production, manufacture, extraction, preparation,
possession, offering for sale, distribution, purchase, sale, delivery,
transport, brokerage, dispatch, importation and exportation of drugs
is punishable when committed intentionally, "and that serious offences
shall be liable to adequate punishment, particularly by imprisonment
or other related penalties of deprivation of liberty".

On the question of international human rights, Hylton said that this
was the second legal consideration which had influenced the Ganja
Commission in favour of the recommendation for decriminalisation.
However, he said that even with the recognition of fundamental human
rights, the conferences which formulated the three treaties, still
sought to ensure, "in unambiguous terms", that ganja possession,
purchase and cultivation, even for personal use, are to be subject to
criminal sanctionss.

"Given the clear language of the three relevant conventions, the
device by which human rights considerations could somehow trump the
rules against drug activity requires further explanation by those who
posit the human rights argument in this context," he said.
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