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OPINION: Jamaica, Ganja, and the World

Jim Finnel

Fallen Cannabis Warrior & Ex News Moderator
A few weeks ago, I spoke at the Victoria Cross Dinner of the Jamaica Regiment of the Jamaica Defence Force. The Victoria Cross is the highest award available to military officers working within the British tradition; and the Victoria Cross Dinner in Jamaica commemorates the heroism of Sergeant William Gordon and Lance Corporal Samuel Hodge, both of the West Indian Regiment: the first non-Europeans to be awarded the medal.

Bearing in mind that the Jamaica Regiment is active on the frontline in Jamaica, I considered it appropriate to talk about a number of policy issues that concern the Jamaican society in general. One such issue is whether Jamaica should seek to decriminalise the use of marijuana for private purposes. The following reflects what I said on that subject.

Commission Proposal

A few years ago, the National Commission on Ganja made a number of proposals concerning the weed. In essence, the commission, after months of consultation, recommended to the then Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, that marijuana use should be decriminalised when used on private premises and when used for religious reasons.

The commission also recommended that marijuana use should be discouraged among children, and that Jamaica should undertake diplomatic initiatives to convince other countries that ganja decriminalisation was an acceptable course for government policy.

After a period of deliberation, possibly nine days, the matter fell from public discourse. It has been revived occasionally, but one has the impression that not much is happening on the ganja legalisation front. It would not be a good idea for Jamaica to follow the course of action recommended by the National Commission on Ganja.

For one thing, Jamaica's diplomatic position would be seriously weakened if we were to follow this route. And here, I am not talking only about the likely American reaction to the decriminalisation effort that reaction will be significant.

Under American law, there is every likelihood that Jamaica would be decertified if we were to decriminalise ganja use, and decertification would mean that some - perhaps much - of the aid we receive and some of our access to loans from agencies such as the IMF and the World Bank would be reduced.

But, as I say, the matter would go beyond the United States. Arguably, some European countries (such as the Netherlands) would not be able to complain about our decriminalisation, as they have moved in this direction. But, within the Caribbean, many of our neighbours would be inclined to take a dim view of our attitude.

In Cuba today, a Jamaican may well be sentenced to 15 years in jail for possession of one pound of ganja. The Cuban attitude is very strict compared to ours; but here is the point, two of our closest allies in different ways - the U.S. and Cuba - implicitly share the view that relaxation of our laws would be problematic. One expects, too, that other Caribbean countries would be critical - in the case of Barbados, the National Commission's proposal was initially ridiculed in a leading newspaper as an effort to enhance Jamaica's sagging tourism fortunes.

International Treaties

Still at the diplomatic level, the National Commission's proposal would run into choppy waters with respect to certain international treaties. Jamaica is a party to the 1961 Single Narcotics Convention, the 1972 Convention on Psychotropic Drugs and the 1988 United Nations Convention on the Illicit Trafficking in Narcotic and Psychotropic Drugs.

Each of these treaties prohibits the possession, transport, sale, export and import of marijuana, among other things. Each one also requires states parties to impose penal sanctions on these activities. The question arises: why would other states support the idea ofa wilful violation of these treaties by Jamaica?

But we must also be brave in our analysis. There is strong evidence that marijuana use has negative effects on some people - including demotivational syndrome. In the circumstances, I believe that many Jamaicans do not support decriminalisation. My call is for us to speak up - for silence on this question is likely to be seen as acceptance of the idea that there is nothing wrong with ganja-smoking by adults.

I would also point out that even if you believe that a small amount of ganja would not be harmful, there would be serious legal problems in determining what is small for the present purposes. And, if you leave it to the discretion of the individual, there will be confusion, for one man's small packet may be another man's heavy load.

Stephen Vasciannie is Professor of International Law at the University of the West Indies and works part-time in the Attorney-General's chambers

News Hawk- User 420 MAGAZINE ® - Medical Marijuana Publication & Social Networking
Source: Jamaica Gleaner
Author: Stephen Vasciannie
Contact: Jamaica Gleaner : Contact Us
Copyright: 2007 Gleaner Company Ltd.
Website: Jamaica Gleaner News - Jamaica, ganja, and the world
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