Few countries are as associated with marijuana as Jamaica but, surprisingly, it wasn’t until earlier this week that the nation voted to decriminalize the drug. Even then, the law was only passed after much debate amongst Jamaican lawmakers and doesn’t actually legalize the drug, it simply makes it so that carrying small amounts of marijuana on you is no longer considered a criminal offense.
As Rishi Iyengar explains in an article for TIME:
“The new law states that possession of up to 2 oz. of pot or weed, as it is otherwise known, will be considered a petty offense without going on a person’s criminal record, the Associated Press reported. It also legalizes the cultivation of up to five marijuana plants on any premises and the use of the drug for religious purposes.”
Although Jamaica is predominantly Christian, this is still the country that gave birth to the Rastafari movement back in the 1930’s and, as such, has helped make smoking marijuana, or ganja as its called in Jamaica, an important part of the nation’s culture. This is despite the fact that the drug has been completely illegal until now, even for medical use.
“The passage of this legislation does not create a free-for-all in the growing, transporting, dealing or exporting of ganja. The security forces will continue to rigorously enforce Jamaican law consistent with our international treaty obligations,” said Peter Bunting, the country’s national security minister, in parliament.
Rastafarians are also addressed in the new law which allows them to legally use marijuana for religious purposes. Tourists who have been prescribed medical marijuana abroad will also be able to apply for permits in the near future which will enable them to legally buy small amounts of Jamaican marijuana.
However, the most important part about this new law is that it paves the way for the country to set up a “cannabis licensing authority” that will handle regulations regarding the cultivation and distribution of marijuana for medical, scientific, and therapeutic purposes. This follows a growing international trend of easing restrictions on the use of marijuana.
Uruguay became the first nation in the Americas to completely legalize marijuana and create a legal market for the drug while a few states in the United States have either made marijuana legal for medical and recreational use or are in the process of doing so. Some other nations like Argentina have taken a similar approach as Jamaica and have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Regardless of where you stand on the marijuana debate, the fact remains that citizens and politicians across the globe are becoming more accepting of the drug and results in the countries and states where marijuana has been completely legalized have been promising. This doesn’t mean that drug trafficking criminal organizations shouldn’t be stopped, however. This is something that William Brownfield noted following Jamaica’s announcement.
Brownfield, who is the United States assistant secretary for counter-narcotics affairs, said: “Jamaican law is of course Jamaica’s own business and Jamaica’s sovereign decision. We expect that Jamaica and all states party to the UN drug conventions will uphold their obligations, including a firm commitment to combating and dismantling criminal organizations involved in drug trafficking.”