MINISTER of National Security Peter Bunting has warned that amendments to the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act, decriminalising the use of ganja, does not create a free-for-all in growing, transporting, dealing in, or exporting the drug.
“The security forces will continue to rigorously enforce Jamaican laws, consistent with our international treaty obligations,” Bunting told the House as it debated the Bill, Tuesday.
He said that the Bill has been drafted to ensure compliance with Jamaica’s international treaty obligations, and signals its strengthened resolve to combat organised crime by increasing the cost for offences involving transnational illegal trafficking in all forms of prohibited drugs.
He said that Jamaican law enforcement agencies have worked hard with its international partners to make significant inroads against narcotics trafficking and transnational crime organisations over the last 15 years, and there will be no relaxation in that regard.
He added that Jamaica recognises that monitoring, reporting and enforcement mechanisms must be implemented to safeguard against the licensed activity being used as pretext for illicit drug trade or to contribute to financing criminal enterprises.
He said that these reforms would be supported by a regulatory framework to be developed and included in the Bill’s regulations.
Responding, Opposition spokesman on health, Dr Kenneth Baugh, said that the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) is on record supporting the decriminalisation of small amounts of ganja and the removal of custodial sentences and records of a crime committed by using the drug.
He said that the JLP agreed and accepted that there is a potential industry in medicinal marijuana. However, he said that legalisation have raised unresolved issues in the party, including geo-politics, as international agreements and obligations have not changed.
“More public education is needed on the benefits and adverse effects of the recreational use of marijuana. There must be a legal framework for the expanded legal use of marijuana,” Dr Baugh suggested.
Opposition Member of Parliament (MP) Delroy Chuck recalled that in 2011 the JLP did propose that there should be a scheduling of the amount of ganja for which persons could be charged and prosecuted in the Resident Magistrate’s Court.
“We did this because we recognised that there was a high level of injustice imposed on so many of our young poor, inner-city young men,” Chuck said.
However, he noted that, after the JLP Administration had done so, a number of foreign diplomats contacted him to express their concern.
“It took a great amount of explanation to say that we were not legalising, we were just ensuring that where a small amount is used, they don’t have to go to court, as they can just pay the fine like a road traffic offence,” he explained.
Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce Anthony Hylton said that while, the cannabis industry has been developing organically, every effort must now be made for it to achieve its full potential.
“This means adopting a strong commercial approach which, based on entrepreneurial practices that are market-driven, is broad-based and results in value-added products for both goods and service,” he explained.
But, Opposition MP Pearnel Charles felt that it was a “sad day” for Jamaicans to have the Bill passed in its current form.
“It is classified as a dangerous drug, and I believe it should not be (passed) after a few hours of discussion one evening in this Parliament,” he reasoned.
Charles suggested that the Bill should have been sent to a joint select committee, which would allow for public scrutiny of the provisions.
Government member from St Elizabeth North Eastern, Raymond Pryce, said that he did not agree with the need for Rastafarians to satisfy the minister of justice that they were members of that faith in order to get exemptions to use the drug as a sacrament, when other religions do not have to.
Pryce said that he is hoping that the stipulation be removed as soon as possible.
Another Government MP, Dr Dayton Campbell, questioned how would the medical and security experts determine what is a safe level for smoking ganja.
Campbell also suggested that some people were mistaking medical use for personal use.
“It must be crystal clear that we are not encouraging persons to just get up and go and smoke marijuana…but how do we work with them to ensure that we prevent them from going down that road?” he asked.
The Bill was passed without any amendment in the House of Representatives. However, there were five minor amendments when it was passed in the Senate on February 6.