Pubdate: Wed, 18 Feb 2004
Source: Jamaica Gleaner, The (Jamaica)
Copyright: 2004 The Gleaner Company Limited
Author: Earl Moxam, Gleaner Writer
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


THE PARLIAMENTARY Committee considering the report of the National 
Commission on Ganja agreed yesterday to support the decriminalisation of 
ganja for private personal use.

There was only one dissenting voice, that of Opposition Senator Shirley 

The Ganja Commission, headed by Professor Barry Chevannes, had recommended 
that the private, personal use of ganja be decriminalised. This 
recommendation was readily embraced by most members of the parliamentary 
committee from the outset, but they were later put on the defensive by 
Solicitor-General Michael Hylton who cautioned that decriminalisation would 
put Jamaica in conflict with its international treaty obligations on 
narcotics control.

Taking her cue from the Solicitor-General, Senator Williams recommended 
declassification of ganja, in effect making the smoking of it a relatively 
minor offence that would attract no more than a small fine, in the first 

Opposition Members Delroy Chuck and Clive Mullings, along with Government 
Senator Trevor Munroe, were particularly insistent however that 
declassification did not sufficiently meet the objective of removing 
sanctions from the use of ganja.


Arising from the ensuing discussion, three significant changes to the 
proposals before the committee were presented and accepted.

The National Commission on Ganja had recommended that "the relevant law be 
amended so that ganja be decriminalised for the private, personal use of 
small quantities by adults."

The Parliamentary Committee, at Senator Munroe's urging, amended that 
proposal to read: "That the relevant laws be amended so that the private, 
personal use of ganja be no longer an offence."

That change did not sit well with Senator Williams, who argued that the 
committee would be legalising ganja use.


She reminded her colleagues that the Solicitor-General had been at pains to 
point out that no country in the world had legalised ganja.

"Even in Amsterdam (in the Netherlands) where you have coffee shops (where 
ganja is openly sold), on the law books it is still an offence. So let us 
not be the only country in the world that has marijuana as no offence at 
all," she said.

Clive Mullings was equally adamant, however, arguing that there was no 
problem with Jamaica being the first country to do so.

On Delroy Chuck's insistence, the committee also adopted a new formulation 
on an earlier recommendation, which now reads: "The Dangerous Drugs Act be 
amended so that the use of small quantities of marijuana in public be made 
a minor offence to be tried in the petty session of the Resident 
Magistrate's Court."

The motive behind that amendment, according to Mr. Chuck, was that it would 
reinforce the position that, whilst it might still be an offence to smoke 
marijuana in public, it would no longer be an offence to do so in private. 
This change was supported by all the members present, with the exception of 
Clive Mullings.

Mr. Mullings, an attorney-at-law, was adamant that there should no longer 
be any criminal sanctions attached to the smoking of ganja, whether in 
private or in public. And whereas the Solicitor-General had recommended the 
erasing of related criminal records in less time than the present six-year 
limit, the committee agreed to recommend that, while a register would be 
kept of such offences, this would not form part of the person's criminal 
record, for any period.

The committee hopes to complete its deliberations at its next meeting, 
after which its final report will be presented to Parliament for debate and 
a conscience vote.
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