Pubdate: Fri, 23 Jan 2004
Source: Jamaica Observer (Jamaica)
Copyright: 2004 The Jamaica Observer Ltd,
Author: Balford Henry


PARLIAMENTARIANS supporting the decriminalisation of ganja earned
little consolation from Solicitor General Michael Hylton's return
Wednesday to respond to specific questions triggered by his warning in
December against breaching international conventions.

The solicitor general said that despite the fact that both ganja and
wine could be regarded as religious sacraments, they were not treated
equally under the law and, therefore, could not be equated in terms of
the argument for decriminalisation.

"Even assuming that ganja plants could be described as growing wild,
and that Rastafarianism could be classified as a small, clearly
determined group, Jamaica could possibly have opted to make a
reservation concerning the use of ganja for religious purposes when
the country became a party to the Convention on Psychotropic Drugs.
Jamaica did not do so and, as a result, cannot now convincingly argue
that the use of ganja by Rastafarians for religious purposes is
permitted under that treaty," Hylton told a parliamentary committee.

Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) MP Mike Henry (Central Clarendon), who has
been advocating decriminalisation on religious grounds, suggested that
the committee urge the government to put the case to the international

The committee agreed, but Hylton told the Observer after the meeting
that it was very unlikely that such an argument would win support in
the international arena, as a number of other countries faced a
similar dilemma.

Hylton said that Jamaica's room to manoeuvre would be restricted by
the terms of three conventions - the Single Narcotics Convention, the
Convention on Psychotropic Substances and the Convention against
Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances -
concerning activities closely related to the personal use of ganja.

"Jamaica would be in breach of its treaty obligations if Parliament
were to remove criminal sanctions with respect to these activities,"
Hylton reiterated.

But he said that none of the conventions actually indicated the level
of punishment associated with the offences. Given that the conventions
provide only limited guidance as to sentencing for ganja-related
offences (such as possession and cultivation) Jamaica could reduce the
level of sentence for such offences. However, he said that Jamaica
would need to ensure that a reasonable degree of proportionality is
retained between the particular offence and the punishment to be applied.

On the question of whether possession and cultivation of ganja for
personal use could be made punishable only by a fine, without creation
of a permanent criminal record, Hylton said that it was arguable that,
with respect to small quantities of ganja, the imposition of a fine
could be an appropriate penalty, consistent with the relevant treaty

It was fair to say that a permanent criminal record was a
disproportionate response to the simple possession or cultivation of
small quantities of ganja, but it would be unrealistic to abandon
entirely the retention of records, if Jamaica wishes to comply with
international obligations.

On the issue of the commercial production of cannabis-related goods
(without resin), he said it would need to be regulated by the State,
pursuant to a special licensing system.

Hylton said, too, that the general approach of the Singles Narcotics
Convention is against commercial use, regarding the extraction of
fatty acids. But there was an exception in terms of drugs commonly
used in industry "for other than medical or scientific purposes".
However, the solicitor general advised that if this exception is to be
relied upon for commercial production, the State must provide
statistical information to the International Narcotics Control Board.

"Bearing in mind that ganja is not now commonly used in industry in
Jamaica, it would be difficult for the country to rely on this
exception in order to justify the commercial extraction of fatty acids
at this time," Hylton explained.

The solicitor general also objected to the National Ganja Commission's
proposal that decriminalisation should exclude smoking by juveniles.
He said that this recommendation would discriminate against children.
Later on, however, he agreed with a proposal from the JLP's Mike Henry
that juveniles should be also exempted, but that parents be held

Henry, in the meantime, urged the committee to move quickly to a
conscience vote in the House of Representatives, as he as he felt that
the solicitor general's responses offered little hope for the members
of the committee who supported decriminalisation.

Committee chairman, Dr Morais Guy (Central St Mary) said that there
would be another meeting on February 11, at which he would seek
consensus on a draft report to be sent to Parliament.
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MAP posted-by: Matt Elrod