Pubdate: Sat, 31 Jan 2015
Source: Virgin Islands Daily News, The (VI)
Copyright: 2015 The Associated Press
Author: David McFadden, The Associated Press


KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) - Jamaica's Senate on Friday started debating 
a bill that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of pot 
and establish a licensing agency to regulate a lawful medical 
marijuana industry on the island where the drug has long been 
pervasive but prohibited.

Justice Minister Mark Golding, who introduced the legislation to the 
upper house, said it would establish a "cannabis licensing authority" 
to deal with regulations on cultivation and distribution of marijuana 
and industrial hemp for medical, scientific and therapeutic purposes.

The various drug law amendments would make possession of up to 2 
ounces a petty offense that would not result in a criminal record. 
Cultivation of five or fewer plants on any premises would be 
permitted. Tourists who are prescribed medical marijuana abroad could 
apply for permits authorizing them to legally buy small amounts of 
Jamaican ganja.

"It is time that Jamaica capitalizes on the plant that has been part 
of our culture for generations," said Deputy Senate President Angela 
Brown Burke, a legalization advocate who is also the mayor of 
Jamaica's capital of Kingston.

Rastafarians who use marijuana as a sacrament could also legally use 
cannabis for religious purposes for the first time in Jamaica, where 
the spiritual movement was founded in the 1930s. It would also give 
adherents special privileges to use, cultivate and transport the drug 
for sacramental purposes on the island.

Sen. Tom Tavares-Finson said the opposition supports the government's 
marijuana reform bill overall, which was recently authorized by the 
Cabinet, and is "happy with the progress that is being made." But he 
says the sections dealing with Rastafarians are muddled.

The legislation's "fundamental flaw," according to Tavares-Finson, 
would essentially give Jamaica's justice minister the authority to 
determine who is a Rasta and who is not when reviewing applications 
to use and grow pot for spiritual reasons. He described it as "an 
onerous responsibility that has evaded sociologists for the last 50 years."

Experts in the faith agree that determining religious use will not be 
clear-cut. Rastafarians essentially have no formal church or 
doctrine, organized conversion process and few places of communal 
gathering. An individual Rasta's personal relationship with "Jah," or 
God, is considered central to the belief system.

"Most ritual smoking does not take place in official places of 
worship but in people's yards and on street corners," Ennis Edmonds, 
an associate professor of religious studies at Ohio's Kenyon College 
who studies Rastafari, said by email.

Debate in the Senate is expected to continue in coming days before 
being sent to the lower house. Legislation to decriminalized 
marijuana is expected to pass both chambers, where the ruling party 
holds the majority.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom