Jamaica has finally approved legislation to decriminalize marijuana possession and legalize its use for medicinal and scientific purposes, joining a growing number of countries to take steps towards liberalizing drug laws.
On February 24, Jamaica's House of Representatives passed a long debated amendment to the country's Dangerous Drug Act concerning marijuana use that will now become law.
The act decriminalizes possession of up to two ounces (56 grams) of marijuana, making it a "ticketable" offence that leaves no criminal record, reported the Jamaica Observer. In the case of adherents to the Rastafarian religion, it will be completely decriminalized, according to the Observer.
However, smoking marijuana in public places will not be permitted, and if a minor or a person judged to be dependent on the substance is found in possession of the drug, they will be referred to the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA).
The law also creates mechanisms for granting licenses for the medicinal, scientific and therapeutic uses of marijuana and for the creation of a Cannabis Licensing Authority to regulate the medical marijuana industry.
Government ministers highlighted the economic opportunities enabled by the amendment in the areas of medical research, industrial hemp and medical tourism, according to the Observer, while one member of parliament called for Jamaica to push for marijuana to be taken off the United Nations list of prohibited substances, reported the Jamaica Gleaner.
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With the passing of the new amendment, Jamaica joins several other countries in the region that are edging towards a new paradigm on marijuana use.
Uruguay has now begun to implement its marijuana laws, in the most comprehensive drug reforms the region has seen yet, while days before Jamaica passed its law, Alaska became the latest US state to legalize marijuana consumption, with regulations governing sales to follow. Various other countries have already decriminalized possession of marijuana for personal use or approved its use for medical purposes, and more are currently examining legal reforms.
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Nevertheless, Jamaica's new law remains a half measure, as the production and wholesale of marijuana are still illegal. Jamaica is a major marijuana producer, not only for the domestic market but also for export, and it remains to be seen how the new liberalized consumption laws will work alongside a thriving criminal industry that supplies those consumers.
Jamaica is the main Caribbean exporter of marijuana to the United States, and US officials have expressed concern that the new law may encourage an increase in production.