How Jamaica dealt with ganja

Dear Editor,

WITH the current debate regarding marijuana legislation and sentencing policy in Guyana, I herein share how Jamaica has recently updated its legislation and changed its policy with regard to marijuana.

Earlier this year, Jamaica enacted the “Dangerous Drug (Amendment) Act 2015” that decriminalized the possession of UNDER 2 ounces of marijuana, making it a “ticket-able” offence instead. A brief summary of the legislation shows: 1) possession of 2 ounces or less of ganja is no longer an offence for which one can be arrested, charged and have to go to court; and it will not result in a criminal record. (two ounces = 56.7 grammes); however, the police may issue to a person in possession of 2 ounces or less of ganja a ticket that is similar to a traffic ticket, and the person has 30 days to pay the sum of J$500 at any Tax Office. It remains a criminal offence to be in possession of over 2 ounces of ganja, and offenders can be arrested, charged, tried in court; and if found guilty, sentenced to a fine or to imprisonment or both. The conviction will also be recorded on that person’s criminal record.

Smoking of ganja at privately-occupied residences that are not used for commercial purposes is not an offence, but is governed by the rules on possession of ganja referred to in 1 above. As such, persons having less than 2 ounces of marijuana in their homes will not be given a ticket.

The Jamaica legislation aptly addressed the concern raised by the Minister of Public Health, Dr George Norton, with regards to Guyana’s impending “anti-tobacco legislation” (Jamaica has already passed stringent anti-tobacco legislation), where it states: “smoking of ganja in a public place or within five metres of a public place is prohibited in a manner similar to cigarettes”.

A person who smokes in public cannot be arrested or detained. However, the police may issue a ticket to that person, and that person will have 30 days to pay $500 at any Tax Office.
For the purposes of these smoking rules, a public place includes a workplace and any place which is for the use of, or accessible to, the public, such as sidewalks, bus stops, restaurants, offices, educational institutions, pharmacies, hospitals, areas used by children, supermarkets and parks.

The legislation goes further, addressing medical and religious use of marijuana, cultivation and scientific research of marijuana, among other things. I conclude that Guyana adopting a similar approach would result in several positive outcomes. It would recognise the changing trend in United States (where some states have “legalised” marijuana use) and Europe, as the global order began to recognize some of the failures on “the war on drugs”. It will free up police resources (time, manpower and money) to fight serious crime; it will reduce the clutter at the Magistrates Courts, which should result in quicker dispensation of justice; it would reduce the cost of imprisonment, thus saving the state millions of dollars; it would prevent young persons from getting a criminal record that can be an albatross around their necks for the rest of their lives, as they find it challenging to get into the workforce; it would reduce the number of young persons becoming hardened criminals, as is usually the case when they spend time in prison mixing with these elements.

It will raise revenue through the imposition of fines. To be successful, I believe the fine should be small enough not to induce police corruption, but still act as a deterrent. I would recommend between Gy$1000 and Gy$2000. At today’s rate the Jamaican fine of JA$500 is equivalent to Gy$865.07.

Yours Sincerely
Dexter Cummings

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