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  1. Alfa
    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
    Williams.

    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
    narcotics control.

    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
    instance.

    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.

    SIGNIFICANT CHANGES

    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.

    LEGALISING GANJA

    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
    Magistrate's Court."

    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
    Clive Mullings.

    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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