KINGSTON, Jamaica - In the heart of Kingston, about a dozen men stand in an
open-air emporium, stacking long buds of marijuana even though the crop is
illegal in Jamaica.

"High-grade, the best. ... Smell it," says a Rastafarian at the Luke Lane
market, who gives his name only as Toro as he beckons to a passerby. Sale
completed, he lights a joint of rolled marijuana and smiles.

He has a lot to be happy about.

A national commission recommended Thursday that marijuana be legalized for
personal use by adults - a move the government is considered likely to
endorse despite opposition from the United States, which has spent millions
to eradicate the crop on the Caribbean island.

"[Marijuana's] reputation among the people as a panacea and a spiritually
enhancing substance is so strong that it must be regarded as culturally
entrenched," the commission said.

The National Commission on Ganja - as marijuana is known here - also said
Jamaica should allow the use of marijuana for religious purposes. This is
important to the Rastafarian minority, who worship deceased Ethiopian
Emperor Haile Selassie as a prophet and use marijuana as a sacrament.

Prime Minister P.J. Patterson last year appointed the commission, which
included academics and doctors. He and elected officials have not publicly
commented on the report. But Ralston Smith, an aide to Patterson, said: "My
gut feeling is that the commission's recommendations will be followed."

Any change in drug laws would have to be approved by Parliament.
Legalization, even for personal use, could cause friction with the United
States and violate the 1988 U.N. Convention Against the Illicit Traffic in
Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. Jamaica signed the accord.

"The U.S. opposes the decriminalization of marijuana," Michael Koplovsky, a
U.S. Embassy spokesman, said Thursday.

During the last 20 years, the United States has worked with Jamaica to burn
marijuana fields and carry out other antidrug efforts. It also has provided
aid to fight drug trafficking in Jamaica, the Caribbean's largest marijuana
exporter and a major transshipment point for cocaine bound for Europe and

The commission addressed these concerns, urging the government to "embark
on diplomatic initiatives ... to elicit support for its internal position."

Between 1992 and 1998, the United States provided $7.8 million to Jamaica
to eliminate marijuana production and trafficking.

Marijuana's deep roots were clear in Luke Lane after word spread of the
commission's recommendation. The vendors were pleased at the possibility
that it might soon be legal to use marijuana, even though selling the drug
would remain illegal.

One dealer, who gave his name as Metro, said he earned about $100 on a good
day. "This money doesn't go out to buy guns," he said. "It goes to food
that fills the bellies of my children and puts them in school clothes and
pays their school fees."

Newshawk: Sledhead -
Pubdate: Sat, 18 Aug 2001
Source: Inquirer (PA)
Copyright: 2001 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc
Author: Matthew Rosenberg, Associated Press
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Cannabis)