WELCOME FIRST MOVE ON GANJA
The parliamentary committee that was given the job of reviewing the report
of the National Commission on Ganja has recommended the acceptance of its
proposal that the personal use of small amounts of marijuana be decriminalised.
This matter will now go the full House for debate and most likely a
conscience vote before there is any amendment to the Dangerous Drugs Act,
to reflect this change.
We suspect, though, that the recommendation, having been carried by the
joint select committee, will find an easier passage in the House, although
this is by no means certain in a situation where the party whips are not
called on to impose voting discipline. We nonetheless sense that the mood
in Jamaica is tolerant towards the proposed change.
In this regard we expect that amendments to reflect the changes in the law
will come to the House early in the new session, which starts in April.
The recommendation of the parliamentary committee, in the context of what
is happening in several other countries, especially in Europe, may not
appear substantial. But in the circumstance of Jamaica it is a big move to
have got from there to here, for which the parliamentary committee deserves
For there were, and are, many who warned against this limited measure of
removing the use of small amounts of ganja in private as a criminal
offence. For some the issue is moral, but we suspect that for most the
greater concern is for the possibility of international repercussions,
especially from the United States, if it is perceived that Jamaica has
"gone soft" on drugs.
The fact, though, is that to maintain the laws on ganja use as they
currently are, would be to keep legislation out of step with popular
sentiment and the society's instinct for justice and fair play.
The point is that Jamaicans, of all social classes, hardly view marijuana
as a "drug" in the way they perceive cocaine or some other narcotic. Small
amounts of ganja are culturally acceptable, although most people would, if
not morally outraged, would be questioning of the commercial production and
export of the drug, especially if such action had the potential to hurt
The proposed change in the legislation will, hopefully, address a real
imbalance in the application of the law in Jamaica. It is mainly the poor
and urban youth who are subject to prosecution and penalties in the legal
system for the use of ganja. It is they, who mostly gain criminal records.
The police are more likely to be lenient towards middle class youth who, in
any event, are more likely to use drugs in the privacy of their homes and
beyond the eyes of the law.
Which, of course, raises two important issues with regard to the proposed
amendment to the ganja law.
The first of these has to do with the definition of "small quantities" of
ganja for people's private and personal use. There has to be consistency in
the application of the law, or you could have the police harassing someone
with perhaps a pack of ganja cigarettes as opposed to a single spliff.
The matter will have to do with defining smoking in private. The truth is
that if this is not carefully handled it could end up victimising the
existing victims. Many poor urban youth hardly consider hanging on the
street corner in their communities as being an overly public endeavour.
Indeed, given the living conditions of many, being on the street is
important social space. To put in bluntly, there is hardly anything private
and personal about the tenement or a shack on the gully bank.
These issues, therefore, have to be seriously considered and dealt with