Jamaica has taken further steps toward legalizing medical marijuana and decriminalizing possession of the drug for all users on the island nation, as debate continues throughout the region on drug policy reform.
On September 30, Justice Minister Mark Golding announced that legislation had been drafted to legalize the cultivation and consumption of medical marijuana, reported the Jamaica Observer. The proposed amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act lay the groundwork for the regulated production of marijuana for medicinal and scientific purposes.
Golding also stated that the amendments to the law would decriminalize personal possession of marijuana, reported the AP. Under the new legislation, individuals caught with 2 ounces or less of marijuana would only be charged with a petty offense. Golding said the amendments were expected to be approved by the end of the year.
On the same day, the House of Representatives approved amendments to the Criminal Records Act, which will automatically expunge minor marijuana possession charges from criminal records.
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The recent steps taken by Jamaican lawmakers represent concrete progress, joining other countries in the region such as Colombia, Ecuador, and Costa Rica that have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. In February, government officials told a cannabis taskforce that marijuana would be decriminalized by the end of 2014.
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A consensus is building across Latin America and the Caribbean about the need for drug policy reform, but obstacles still remain in achieving it. For example, Argentine President Cristina Kirchner gave her approval in August to begin drafting proposals for the decriminalization of marijuana, but representatives of the Catholic Church -- invoking the name of Pope Francis -- have come out against the move. Meanwhile, drug users in Bolivia, Brazil, Peru and Mexico still often face strict punishments for marijuana possession.
Even in Uruguay, considered the leader of drug policy reform in the region, there has been strong opposition within the country to the government's plan to regulate the cultivation and consumption of marijuana for recreational purposes. The success or failure of Uruguay's reform could determine the outcome of drug policy reform across the Americas.