Jamaica plans to decriminalize marijuana before the end of the year, bringing it in line with many of its Latin American neighbors, but raising the question of what effect this might have on its significant illegal export market.
The island's Cannabis Commercial and Medicinal Research Taskforce (CCMRT), a government-established coalition of civil society groups that has been investigating how a medical marijuana industry could be established, said it received a promise from government minister Phillip Paulwell to decriminalize the drug, reported the Jamaica Observer.
Paulwell, the Minister for Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, told the task force last week that "ganja will be decriminalized in Jamaica this year and emphasized that Jamaica cannot be allowed to be left behind on the issue," CCMRT leader Delano Seiveright said in a statement.
"He also reiterated the multiple economic, social and cultural benefits that Jamaica stands to gain" by changing marijuana laws, he added.
This association would be used to push the government to establish "a properly regulated cannabis industry in all aspects, cultivation, agro-processing, medicinal and its many and varied by-products."
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Jamaica has been considering marijuana decriminalization for a long time. A government commission recommended decriminalizing the possession of small amounts over a decade ago, but the plans were sidelined due to fears about an adverse reaction from the United States. These fears have lessened as the US has begun to take a less hard-line stance against marijuana use.
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There are few details on what exactly is being planned in the most recent reports, but it appears almost certain Jamaica will join neighbors including Ecuador, Colombia, Costa Rica and Argentina in allowing some amount of marijuana for personal use. This also forms part of a wider Latin American movement to treat drug addiction as a public health issue rather than a crime.
Talk of launching a growers association suggests Jamaica may go even further, moving towards Uruguay's example in establishing a regulated cannabis industry.
The prospect of decriminalization and regulation raises the question of what effect it will have on Jamaica's significant marijuana exports. The island is the largest Caribbean supplier of marijuana to the United States, estimated to produce 15,000 hectares annually, and a rise in murders last year was attributed to inter-gang conflicts over the country's drug trade.