AMAICA CONSIDERS CALLS TO DECRIMINALISE USE OF
Written by Administrator
Friday, 05 September 2008 15:08
Pubdate: Tue, 11 Mar 2008
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2008 Guardian Newspapers Limited
Author: Robert Booth, in Kingston
SPIFFY SOCIETY - JAMAICA CONSIDERS CALLS TO DECRIMINALISE USE OF
Drugs Law Reform Could Free Courts Logjam - But The Issues Are Not
Rastafarian priest Headley Samuel holds up a stem of pungent marijuana
and reveals his recipe for bliss: "Fast, breakfast, drink aloe vera
and smoke ganja." His routine, which he says takes him to "the highest
spiritual realm", makes him a lawbreaker. But soon that may change.
Jamaica, the largest producer of cannabis in the Caribbean, is
considering decriminalising use of the drug.
A seven-member government commission has examined possible reforms of
the nation's anti-drug laws, which some police complain clog up courts
and jails with marijuana-related cases.
Possession of ganja, as it is known in Jamaica, can be punished with
imprisonment. Some Jamaicans consider that disproportionate and a
recent newspaper poll revealed that Jamaicans rate smoking above
drinking as a way to wind down.
It is widely used, with fumes wafting from Kingston building sites and
across bars. Quantities are openly for sale in parts of downtown
Kingston for as little as 35p for a spliff.
A previous government-appointed ganja commission proposed
decriminalisation in 2003. That was never acted upon because the
government feared it would cause the withdrawal of their country's US
anti-drug certification and trigger economic sanctions.
The new Jamaican Labour party government, which took power last year,
has decided to think again.
"We are happy to know this has not been forgotten," said Paul Burke,
president of the National Alliance for the Legalisation of Ganja. "It
would release the police from the bind of an unjust and an
"If you go to a football match in Jamaica, it is smoked with impunity.
Ganja should be allowed to be smoked in people's private residences
and everybody should be allowed a certain amount and should be allowed
to grow some stems in their own area."
The drug is revered by Rastafarians who believe a verse in Psalms
which says God "causeth the grass to grow for cattle, and the herb for
the service of man" gives them the right to defy the law. But
thousands more use it as a recreational drug and cultivation has
increased following the recent crackdown on cocaine
The western slopes of the parishes of Westmoreland and St Elizabeth
produce the most coveted varieties. There the crop, which grows to two
metres, is hidden from the police and army among sugar cane fields.
"I don't see why the government tries to fight it," said Verona White,
49, a mother of six children and an orthodox Bobo Rastafarian.
"Anywhere water catches in Jamaica, it grows. Doctor, lawyer,
everybody takes it. I went to see a pastor in St Ann's parish and he
told me he couldn't preach without it."
Another Bobo rasta, priest Emmanuel Moses, 56, made more outlandish
claims for its powers.
"It drives away Aids and diseases like that," he said. "It's a
medicine for the world. It's not a drug. Herb is herb."
However, the review is unlikely to propose a complete liberalisation,
according to consultees. Allowances for use at home and small-scale
cultivation could be offset by bans on smoking in public places and
educational campaigns to discourage children from taking the drug.
There is a strong lobby from conservative sections of Jamaican society
who object to passive ganja smoking and doctors have urged the
government to produce public information campaigns explaining the side
effects, particularly on mental health.
Dr Rosemarie Wright-Pascoe, president of the Medical Association of
Jamaica, said the review had partly been triggered by research showing
an increase in the use of marijuana among children and concern at the
increasingly open use of the drug in public places.
British government officials in Jamaica, concerned at the failure of
police to prevent organised crime and cocaine trafficking which causes
violence on Britain's streets, said decriminalisation could free up
the criminal justice system for fighting more serious crime. But it is
not a simple equation.
"Jamaica, sadly, is a world leader in the cultivation of marijuana and
one of the big problems in the country is the ganja-for-guns trade
with Haiti," said Brendan Gill, the senior political secretary at the
British high commission.
"The guns come into Haiti from the US and then they find their way
here. Legalisation might entrench the power of the dons and gangs who
are already using marijuana to bring in guns."
Local guide to ganja varieties Colly herb Dry, brown variety with a
fresh taste. Considered a basic and relatively mild variety
Indica Strong, cross-bred variety which grows well in Westmoreland.
Related to skunk, with a sticky consistency
White Rhino and White Ice Strongest Jamaican varieties, fertilised
with bat droppings and fruit
Lambs Bread "Gummy" variety with a flat, broad bud that smokers say
resembles a slice of bread. It packs a strong punch
Cotton and Thyme Varieties with soft, small and tender buds which
thrive best on the sunny, west-facing slopes of the parish of Westmoreland