HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Jamaica Considers Legalizing Marijuana
Pubdate: Mon, 04 Jun 2001
Source: Register-Guard, The (OR)
Copyright: 2001 The Register-Guard


KINGSTON, Jamaica - Imagine a lush, tropical land just a few hundred miles 
off the U.S. coast where marijuana, although illegal, is a cultural icon 
worshiped by thousands and so plentiful it goes for just $26 a pound.

Now, imagine this place when it's legal.

That's precisely what Jamaica's government-appointed National Commission on 
Ganja has been doing for the last nine months.

Led by the dean of social sciences at Kingston's University of the West 
Indies, the seven-member commission has heard from more than 150 people and 
institutions ranging from the Medical Association of Jamaica to the 
Rastafarian Centralization Organization, and it has sounded out more than a 
dozen communities nationwide.

This month, the official body will present its final recommendations on 
whether marijuana should be decriminalized here.

An interim report that Commission Chairman Barry Chevannes presented to 
Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson in May gave no clear indication 
whether the commission will endorse decriminalization, a recommendation 
that would be put to Parliament for a vote.

The Bush administration isn't likely to welcome decriminalization. Even 
under then-President Clinton, the State Department and the Drug Enforcement 
Administration consistently expressed concern over Jamaica's large 
marijuana crop and its exports to U.S. markets.

Chevannes said the commission seriously is considering the "external 
consequences" of its recommendation.

Beyond a potential U.S. condemnation, they include a possible snowball 
effect on other marijuana-producing Caribbean islands that have considered 
decriminalizing the plant in the past.

Privately, U.S. and Jamaican law enforcement officials say the island's 
marijuana trade has been eclipsed by its more lucrative role as a stopover 
point for Colombian cocaine shipments bound for the United States - a 
multibillion-dollar industry that is fueling gang wars in Kingston, the 
capital, and a murder rate that ranks among the highest in the world.

Some proponents of decriminalization say Jamaican police could focus more 
resources on combating the cocaine trade if relieved of targeting ganja; 
last year, police officials say, they seized more than 6 tons of marijuana 
and destroyed more than 1,000 acres of the plant.

Yet ganja remains plentiful, readily available and cheap; a pound of the 
Jamaican herb that goes for $26 here can fetch more than $1,500 in the 
United States.
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