Legalize It: Jamaica to Decriminalize Marijuana

Words by Kristal Roberts 

Like it or not, marijuana has undeniably entangled itself in the Jamaica’s identity.

It’s a staple in the Rastafarian faith, and on an international scale, ganja and Jamaica have become as synonymous as cough syrup and drug stores.

While it’s been a long time part of the island’s appeal, it’s been illegal for the last century. But after long periods of discourse on decriminalizing the substance, the government is finally moving forward with plans to make this a reality.

Legislation has been drafted on the cultivation and consumption of weed, which according to The Associated Press, states that possession of 2 ounces or less will no longer be considered a major crime, but rather a petty offense.

This decision comes at a time when other prominent nations, including the United States, have slowly begun the process of legalizing marijuana for medical use and/or recreational use in a number of states.

This law is also expected to legally protect Rastafarians, who habitually smoke marijuana, reverencing it as a holy herb that contributes to the spiritual experience. Essentially, they will be allowed to practice their religion without the threat of arrest.

Another sector embracing the change is the tourism industry. Minister of Tourism Wykeham McNeill, told Caribbean News Now that the new law “can only be good for tourism”.

Jamaican marketing expert Don Miller thinks the law will be good for business, especially considering the fact that he bought the rights to the phrase “100% Jamaican”. For the past 15 years, Miller and his sons have sold products with the brand name, but now they plans to capitalize off the global pro-marijuana trend by launching “100% Jamaican” rolling papers, electronic smoking devices and other related items.

Alain, Miller’s son told Caribbean News Now that telling the 3 million tourists that visit Jamaica annually that they can “take home a little something that’s 100% Jamaican” makes great business sense.

Weed Smoke

Justice Minister Mark Golding says bigger drug law changes pertaining to medical marijuana and cannabis research are  “complex” and are expected to take a while longer period before the details are hashed out, but these areas are a priority.

Golding told the Associated Press that scientists in Jamaica developed a marijuana-derived medicine for glaucoma decades ago, so the country will be a “well positioned forerunner” in therapeutic pot uses.

One thing the government has on the agenda is protecting small farmers from being excluded from weed cultivation. The government doesn’t want production rights to be exclusive to large capital investors only. Golding says the cabinet has already approved the law and legislators are expected to approve it before the end of 2014.

Despite the national embrace of the legal shift, Golding says drug trafficking will continue to be illegal.

Keeping marijuana out of the hands of children and off the black market will also continue be a major focus for the government.