COMMITTEE TO RECOMMEND GANJA DECRIMINALISATION
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
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
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
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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