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Jamaica Poised to Decriminalize Marijuana Possession, Approve Medical and Religious Use, and Expunge Past Offenses

Marijuana reform gaining unprecedented momentum.

On Friday, Jamaican Minister of Justice Mark Golding released a statement announcing government support for a proposal to decriminalize the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana and the decriminalization of marijuana use for religious, scientific and medical purposes.

“The objective is to provide a more enlightened approach to dealing with possession of small quantities and smoking, while still meeting the ends of justice,” Minister Golding said. “The proposed changes represent an approach which will ensure to the benefit of the persons concerned and the society as a whole, and reduce the burdens on the court system.”

The Jamaican Cabinet approved these amendments on June 2; Parliament is expected to approve the proposal in September. The measure approved by the Cabinet includes the following stipulations: possession of up to two ounces of marijuana becomes a non-arrestable, ticketable infraction, which does not give rise to a criminal record; minors in possession and those with appearance of dependency will be referred to treatment programs; smoking of marijuana will be allowed in private places and by Rastafarians in places designated for their religious worship; and the decriminalization of possession of marijuana for religious, therapeutic and scientific research purposes. Minister Golding also announced a separate marijuana-related bill to be presented to Parliament, which would expunge existing criminal records for the smoking or possession of small quantities of marijuana.

Marijuana reform has recently gained unprecedented global momentum. Canada, Uruguay, Israel and Holland, as well as 22 states in the United States have legalized marijuana for medical purposes. Last year, Uruguay followed on the heels of Colorado and Washington State and became the first country to legally regulate marijuana for recreational purposes. On Thursday, the West Africa Commission on Drugs, initiated by former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and chaired by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasango, called for drug decriminalization and for treating drug use as a health issue. In the Caribbean, Heads of State of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) have mandated that a Regional Commission be set up to address issues related to marijuana use and to evaluate current marijuana policy.

Statement by Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance:

“The comprehensive cannabis law reform proposed by Jamaica’s government, with bipartisan support, represents a major breakthrough not just for Jamaica but for the Caribbean and the world at large,” said Ethan Nadelmann. “What made this possible was not just bold political leadership but also the dawning recognition that Jamaica and other Caribbean nations no longer need fear a harsh response from the U.S. government when they change their marijuana policies.”

Link to the release.

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