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'Decriminalisation of ganja could hurt Jamaica'

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SOLICITOR General Michael Hylton yesterday warned parliamentarians studying
the ganja issue that Jamaica would breach international obligations and face
tough US sanctions, if the drug is decriminalised.

Hylton told a meeting of the Joint Select Committee of Parliament studying
the National Ganja Commission report, that although Parliament could pass
amendments to remove the constitutional bar to decriminalisation it would,
in all likelihood, breach international obligations in respect of drug

"If recommendation one is implemented, and the Dangerous Drugs Act is
amended to decriminalise the private, personal use of marijuana in small
quantities, Jamaica would, in all likelihood, be in breach of certain
international obligations in respect of drug control," he said.
Recommendation one of the Ganja Commission's report asked that, "the
relevant laws be amended so that ganja can be decriminalised for the
private, personal use of small quantities by adults."

The statement landed like a spanner in the works of the parliamentarians who
seemed on track to some sort of consensus on, at least, decriminalisation.

Committee members Senator Trevor Munroe; Dr Patrick Harris (Northern
Trelawny) and Mike Henry (Central Clarendon) sought loopholes around the
conventions and the threat of sanctions, but Hylton could only offer them
the consequences.

Questions were also raised by Dr Ken Baugh (West Central St Catherine);
Sharon Hay-Webster (South Central Clarendon) and Senator Shirley Williams.

"Jamaica would, in my view, be in breach of its international obligations if
Parliament were to implement recommendation one of the Ganja Commission's
recommendations," Hylton insisted. "The country could conceivably
decriminalise marijuana use, but as the relevant conventions require
possession, purchase, cultivation and the supply factors to be subjected to
the criminal law, it is not clear how the recommendation would work in
practice," he added.

Henry suggested that it may be best that the committee sign off on its
report, immediately, and move to a "conscience vote" on the issue in
Parliament as soon as possible. But chairman Morais Guy, and Dr Munroe felt
that it would be better to seek a consensus that could guide the final

Hylton said that the problem was with the three recommendations for
decriminalisation. The other two concerned decriminalisation for personal
use, except by juveniles and in premises accessible to the public, and for
use of ganja as a sacrament for religious purposes.

The United States Government is opposed to the decriminalisation of ganja.
Embassy spokeswoman, Orna Bloom, has been quoted as saying that it could
create "the perception, especially to our youth, that marijuana is not
harmful, which could lead to an increase in its use".

Hylton, in explaining decertification in this context, said that the United
States Government policy under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, requires
the president to take steps to decertify countries categorised as major
illicit drug producing and/or drug transit countries. He noted that Jamaica
was already listed among the major Illicit drug producing and drug transit

"Thus, if Jamaica were to decriminalise marijuana for personal use, there
would be a distinct risk that the country would be subject to the sanctions
associated with decertification," he said,. The sanctions, he added, would
be significant.

The solicitor general also told the committee that Jamaica is currently a
party to three international conventions concerning illicit drugs:

* The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, as amended by its 1972
Protocol (the Single Narcotics Convention). Jamaica acceded to that treaty
on October 6, 1989 and today over 155 states are parties thereto.

* The Convention on Psychiatropic Substances, 1971. Jamaica acceded to this
treaty on October 6, 1989. Today, over 160 states are parties thereto.

* The United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs
and Psychotropic Substances, 1988. Jamaica acceded to this treaty on
December 29, 1995. Today more than 150 states are parties thereto.

Hylton said that all three conventions adopt a restrictive approach to
marijuana use and, in the interest of brevity, illustrated how
implementation of the Ganja Commission's first recommendation would cause
Jamaica to be in breach of the Singles Narcotics Convention."

He said that the convention, which lists ganja as a prohibitive drug, seeks
to expressly "limit exclusively to medical and scientific purposes, the
production, manufacture, export, import, distribution of, trade in, use and
possession of drugs". Language, which he said, clearly indicated that ganja
use was not encouraged by the treaty.

The convention, he added, states that subject to constitutional limitations,
each party must adopt measures to ensure that cultivation, production,
manufacture, extraction, preparation, possession, offering for sale,
distribution, purchase, sale, delivery, transport, brokerage, dispatch,
importation and exportation of drugs is punishable when committed
intentionally, "and that serious offences shall be liable to adequate
punishment, particularly by imprisonment or other related penalties of
deprivation of liberty".

On the question of international human rights, Hylton said that this was the
second legal consideration which had influenced the Ganja Commission in
favour of the recommendation for decriminalisation. However, he said that
even with the recognition of fundamental human rights, the conferences which
formulated the three treaties, still sought to ensure, "in unambiguous
terms", that ganja possession, purchase and cultivation, even for personal
use, are to be subject to criminal sanctionss.

"Given the clear language of the three relevant conventions, the device by
which human rights considerations could somehow trump the rules against drug
activity requires further explanation by those who posit the human rights
argument in this context," he said.

Pubdate: Thursday, December 11, 2003
Source: Jamaica Observer (Jamaica)
Contact: editorial@jamaicaobserver.com
Website: Jamaica Observer: Jamaican News Online – the Best of Jamaican Newspapers - JamaicaObserver.com
Author: Balford Henry