In light of the passage on Tuesday of a resolution by the Jamaican House of Representatives, calling for decriminnalisation of the personal use of ganja (marijuana), we reproduce below, the executive summary of the report of the National Commission on Ganja, published on August 7, 2001:
The National Commission of Ganja, pursuant to its terms of reference and after a period of exhaustive consultation and inquiry from November 2000 to July 2001, involving some four hundred persons from all walks of life, including professional and influential leaders of society, is recommending the decriminalisation of ganja for personal, private use by adults and for use as a sacrament for religious purposes.
The Commission, after reviewing the most up-to-date body of medical and scientific research, is of the view that whatever health hazards the substance poses to the individual - and there is no doubt that ganja can have harmful effects, these do not warrant the criminalisation of thousands of Jamaicans for using it in ways and with beliefs that are deeply rooted in the culture of the people. Besides, there is growing evidence that the substance does have therapeutic properties.
The Commission interviewed over three hundred and fifty persons in all the parishes, and received written submission from over forty. The overwhelming majority of these share the view that ganja should be decriminalised for personal, private use. Many of them are personally opposed to the smoking of it. The Commission is persuaded that the criminalisation of thousands of people for simple possession for consumption does more harm to the society than could be done by the use of ganja itself. The prosecution of simple possession for personal use and the use itself diverts the justice system from what ought to be a primary goal, namely the suppression of the criminal trafficking in substances, such as crack/cocaine, that are ravaging urban and rural communities with addiction and corrupting otherwise productive people.
Decriminalisation of ganja will require appropriate amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act, in particular Sections 7C and 7D.
The Commission, after very careful consideration of the legal issues involved, concludes that decriminalisation will in no way breach the United Nations Drug Conventions, which have been ratified by Jamaica. Especially is this so, when arguments of human rights, including the proposed Charter of Rights being discussed by Parliament, are taken into account.
Accordingly, the National Commission is recommending:
1. that the relevant laws be amended so that ganja be decriminalised for the private, personal use of small quantities by adults;
2.that decriminalisation for personal use should exclude smoking by juveniles or by anyone in premises accessible to the public;
3.that ganja should be decriminalised for use as a sacrament for religious purposes;
4.that a sustained all-media, all-schools education programme aimed at demand reduction accompany the process of decriminalisation, and that its target should be, in the main, young people;
5. that the security forces intensify their interdiction of large cultivation of ganja and trafficking of all illegal drugs, in particular crack/cocaine;
6. that, in order that Jamaica be not left behind, a Cannabis Research Agency be set up, in collaboration with other countries, to coordinate research into all aspects of cannabis, including its epidemiological and psychological effects, and importantly as well its pharmacological and economic potential, such as is being done by many other countries, not least including some of the most vigorous in its suppression; and
7. that, as a matter of great urgency Jamaica embark on diplomatic initiatives with its CARICOM partners and other countries outside the Region, in particular members of the European Union, with a view (a) to elicit support for its internal position, and (b) to influence the international community to re-examine the status of cannabis.
EDITORIAL NOTE: The National Commission on Ganja, appointed by the administration of Prime Minister P.J Patterson, was chaired by respected social anthropologist, Professor Barry Chevannes (now deceased). The other members of the commisison were Reverend Dr. Webster Edwards, Mr. Anthony Freckleton, Ms. Norma Linton, Q.C., Mr. DiMario McDowell, Dr. Aileen Standard-Goldson and Mrs. Barbara Smith