Although Jamaica and cannabis culture are seemingly intertwined, cannabis has actually been illegal on the island since 1913. Now, thanks to a bill proposed last month by the Justice Minister, Mark Golding, it looks like Jamaica is on the cusp of officially relaxing its policy on cannabis use and cultivation.
After weeks of hearings and discussion, it took an additional five hours of debate for the Jamaican Senate to decide to pass The Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act, 2015 on Friday, February 5th. The bill, which also must pass the House of Representatives, will effectively decriminalize the possession of up to two ounces of cannabis. This comes on the heels of the Jamaican government’s 2014 promise to decriminalize possession and personal use of cannabis.
While the law would not legalize cannabis or its cultivation for the general population, it does make concessions for medical cannabis and for ganja to be used by Rastafarians. This possible massive shift in policy was an apt 70th birthday gift for the late Bob Marley, though lawmakers insist the timing was a coincidence. Bunny Wailer, one of the original Wailers from Bob Marley and the Wailers, was present in the Senate gallery on February 5th while the debate took place to publicly display his support of the bill. Many Jamaican Rastafarians have also been outspoken in their support of this bill.
The bill specifically states that medicinal, religious, scientific, and therapeutic use of ganja, and its possession, would become an offense that would incur a ticket, instead of a criminal charge. Those who fail to pay their tickets may be required to perform community service. If the bill passes and alters the Dangerous Drug Act of 1948, public smoking of cannabis will remain illegal, with a few exceptions. One such exception will be in the case of Rastafarians, who would be permitted to register their places of worship to be exempt from public smoking bans. They would also be permitted to cultivate their sacred herb legally, though the Jamaican government would still have to decide where these legal cannabis gardens will be placed.
The bill would create a Cannabis Licensing Authority that would grant permits for those who wish to grow cannabis, process cannabis into other products, or sell cannabis or cannabis products. While the current language of the bill would only permit members of the Rastafarian faith to cultivate cannabis on state-designated lands, some lawmakers want it extended to include entrepreneurs as well. All told, the Senate bill had five amendments attached to it before it passed.
The House of Representatives is expected to prorogue the 2014 session and convene for the new parliamentary year later this week, but the annual budget is expected to be the first matter of debate. Given the level of support, discussions on the new ganja bill will likely follow shortly after. It is expected to take the House of Representatives several weeks to review the bill, hear testimony from officials on the projected impact of this bill, and deliberate its language. Still, many are optimistic that this bill will dramatically change Jamaica for the better.
Photo Credit: Vadim Demianovich