Pubdate: Tue, 15 Apr 2003
Source: Jamaica Observer (Jamaica)
Copyright: 2003 The Jamaica Observer Ltd,
Author: Earl Moxam, Observer writer
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


PARLIAMENT is set to complete its review of the report of the National 
Commission on Ganja during the course of the new legislative year, 
according to Attorney-General A J Nicholson.

The commission, established by Prime Minister P J Patterson in November 
2000, sat for nine months and received 354 oral and 44 written submissions. 
It was headed by University of the West Indies sociology professor, Barry 

In its report, which it presented to Patterson in August 2001, the 
commission recommended the decriminalisation of ganja for personal, private 
use by adults and for use as a sacrament for religious purposes.

It also recommended that the state should begin an intensive education 
programme to reduce the demand for the drug, particularly among young 
people; that the security forces increase their efforts of interdiction of 
large-scale cultivation of ganja and trafficking of all illegal drugs; and 
that the country, as a matter of urgency, should seek diplomatic support 
for its position and to influence the international community to re-examine 
the status of cannabis.

The commission's report was tabled in Parliament last year and referred to 
a joint select committee of both houses of Parliament, chaired by then 
Government MP Canute Brown.

It is likely that another Joint Select Committee will be established to 
take up where the Brown committee left off, Nicholson told the Observer.

"That committee would then make its recommendations in a report to 
Parliament, and then that report would be debated in the Parliament," he said.

In the event that Parliament accepts the recommendation concerning 
decriminalisation, the appropriate changes would have to be made to the 
existing laws, which establish criminal sanctions for personal use of ganja 
in private.

On that point, Nicholson reiterated that decriminalisation did not mean 
legalisation. "It would be treated essentially like a traffic offence," he 
said. "For example; it's quasi-criminal, meaning it's not something that 
would go on your record, so that even if you're caught with a spliff, which 
is for personal use... whatever happens in court, there would be no 
criminal record."

Nicholson also highlighted "collateral issues", which Parliament will have 
to consider when looking at amending the appropriate legislation.

"How, for example, do we treat with possession for personal use, and the 
ability of that person to obtain the drug from someone else; what is the 
position of that other person?" he asked.

Furthermore, he said that Jamaica would have to consider the implications 
for the country's international treaty obligations when looking at changes 
to local laws pertaining to ganja use.

In that regard, he said, the person supplying the ganja, which is obtained 
for personal use, would, under existing laws, be considered a drug 
trafficker, which is a serious criminal offence covered by an existing 
treaty to which Jamaica is a party.

Considering the many legal and social implications, Nicholson said it was 
important for the country's 4,500 justices of the peace and the general 
public to be properly informed about the reform proposals and their 

"As I tried to exhort the justices of the peace for Surrey recently, they 
have to be part of the whole debate and discussion concerning the 
decriminalisation issue," he said.
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