Pubdate: Mon, 11 Jun 2007
Source: Jamaica Gleaner, The (Jamaica)
Copyright: 2007 The Gleaner Company Limited
Author: Stephen Vasciannie
Note: Stephen Vasciannie is Professor of International Law at the 
University of the West Indies and works part-time in the 
Attorney-General's chambers
Bookmark: (Marijuana)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


A few weeks ago, I spoke at the Victoria Cross Dinner of the Jamaica 
Regiment of the Jamaica Defence Force. The Victoria Cross is the 
highest award available to military officers working within the 
British tradition; and the Victoria Cross Dinner in Jamaica 
commemorates the heroism of Sergeant William Gordon and Lance 
Corporal Samuel Hodge, both of the West Indian Regiment: the first 
non-Europeans to be awarded the medal.

Bearing in mind that the Jamaica Regiment is active on the frontline 
in Jamaica, I considered it appropriate to talk about a number of 
policy issues that concern the Jamaican society in general. One such 
issue is whether Jamaica should seek to decriminalise the use of 
marijuana for private purposes. The following reflects what I said on 
that subject.

Commission Proposal

A few years ago, the National Commission on Ganja made a number of 
proposals concerning the weed. In essence, the commission, after 
months of consultation, recommended to the then Prime Minister P.J. 
Patterson, that marijuana use should be decriminalised when used on 
private premises and when used for religious reasons.

The commission also recommended that marijuana use should be 
discouraged among children, and that Jamaica should undertake 
diplomatic initiatives to convince other countries that ganja 
decriminalisation was an acceptable course for government policy.

After a period of deliberation, possibly nine days, the matter fell 
from public discourse. It has been revived occasionally, but one has 
the impression that not much is happening on the ganja legalisation 
front. It would not be a good idea for Jamaica to follow the course 
of action recommended by the National Commission on Ganja.

For one thing, Jamaica's diplomatic position would be seriously 
weakened if we were to follow this route. And here, I am not talking 
only about the likely American reaction to the decriminalisation 
effort that reaction will be significant.

Under American law, there is every likelihood that Jamaica would be 
decertified if we were to decriminalise ganja use, and 
decertification would mean that some - perhaps much - of the aid we 
receive and some of our access to loans from agencies such as the IMF 
and the World Bank would be reduced.

But, as I say, the matter would go beyond the United States. 
Arguably, some European countries (such as the Netherlands) would not 
be able to complain about our decriminalisation, as they have moved 
in this direction. But, within the Caribbean, many of our neighbours 
would be inclined to take a dim view of our attitude.

In Cuba today, a Jamaican may well be sentenced to 15 years in jail 
for possession of one pound of ganja. The Cuban attitude is very 
strict compared to ours; but here is the point, two of our closest 
allies in different ways - the U.S. and Cuba - implicitly share the 
view that relaxation of our laws would be problematic. One expects, 
too, that other Caribbean countries would be critical - in the case 
of Barbados, the National Commission's proposal was initially 
ridiculed in a leading newspaper as an effort to enhance Jamaica's 
sagging tourism fortunes.

International Treaties

Still at the diplomatic level, the National Commission's proposal 
would run into choppy waters with respect to certain international 
treaties. Jamaica is a party to the 1961 Single Narcotics Convention, 
the 1972 Convention on Psychotropic Drugs and the 1988 United Nations 
Convention on the Illicit Trafficking in Narcotic and Psychotropic Drugs.

Each of these treaties prohibits the possession, transport, sale, 
export and import of marijuana, among other things. Each one also 
requires states parties to impose penal sanctions on these 
activities. The question arises: why would other states support the 
idea of a wilful violation of these treaties by Jamaica?

But we must also be brave in our analysis. There is strong evidence 
that marijuana use has negative effects on some people - including 
demotivational syndrome. In the circumstances, I believe that many 
Jamaicans do not support decriminalisation. My call is for us to 
speak up - for silence on this question is likely to be seen as 
acceptance of the idea that there is nothing wrong with ganja-smoking 
by adults.

I would also point out that even if you believe that a small amount 
of ganja would not be harmful, there would be serious legal problems 
in determining what is small for the present purposes. And, if you 
leave it to the discretion of the individual, there will be 
confusion, for one man's small packet may be another man's heavy load.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake