Jamaica to decriminalise marijuana possession in 'enlightened approach' to drug laws

Possessing small amounts of 'ganja' for religious or medical purposes would be allowed under cabinet approved changes

The Jamaican government has announced plans to partially decriminalise possession of small amounts of marijuana, in what governmental officials are describing as a more “enlightened approach” to drug laws.

The Justice Minister Mark Golding said the cabinet was supporting major changes to the laws would see marijuana, known locally as ganja, be decriminalised for religious, medicinal and scientific purposes.

"Cabinet approved certain changes to the law relating to ganja," he told a news conference on Thursday. "These relate to possession of small quantities of ganja for personal use, the smoking of ganja in private places and the use of ganja for medical-medicinal purposes," he said.

"Approval has been given also to a proposal for the decriminalisation of the use of ganja for religious purposes," he said.

Mr Golding said legislation will also be drafted to provide a path for people to get criminal records expunged if they have been convicted under the current law for smoking marijuana.

"Too many of our young people have ended up with criminal convictions after being caught with a 'spliff,' something that has affected their ability to do things like get jobs and get visas to travel overseas," he said.

"I wish to stress that the proposed changes to the law are not intended to promote or give a stamp of approval to the use of ganja for recreational purposes. The objective is to provide a more enlightened approach to dealing with possession of small quantities."

Possession of small quantities of the drug would become a non-arrestable, ticketable infraction in Jamaica resulting in a fine under the proposals.

The move comes after marijuana was legalised in Uruguay and Colorado and is used legally for medicinal purposes in other states.

"It is not only wrong but also foolhardy to continue with a law that makes it illegal to posses ganja and its derivatives for medicinal purposes," Mr Golding added.

The changes are expected to be approved by parliament in September.

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