KINGSTON, Feb. 25 (JIS) – Minister of National Security, Hon. Peter Bunting, said a regulated regime for the use of ganja can have positive benefits for law enforcement, including reducing organised crime, while enabling more efficient use of police resources.
Minister Bunting was speaking in the House of Representatives on Tuesday (February 24), where the Bill to amend the Dangerous Drugs Act was passed.
The Bill seeks to, among other things: make the possession of small quantities of ganja a non-arrestable offence and, to instead, make it a ticketable infraction that does not result in a criminal record.
It also permits the use of ganja for religious, medical, scientific, and therapeutic purposes; and provides for the granting of licences for the development of a lawful industry for medical ganja and industrial hemp.
Noting the impact on crime reduction, Minister Bunting said: “A regime for legal production and distribution of ganja eliminates the monopoly that organised criminals now have in this area and consequently reduce their funding for criminal enterprise.”
He cited law enforcement reports, which suggest that since the regulated regimes for medicinal and recreational marijuana have come into effect in some states in the United States of America (USA), the price for Mexican marijuana has dropped by more than 50 per cent, making it uneconomical for many of the Mexican cartels to continue exporting to the USA.
The Minister said the provision to make possession of small quantities of ganja a non-arrestable offence will reduce incarceration of young people, lessen the caseload in the Resident Magistrate’s Courts and enable more efficient and effective use of police resources.
“One social cost of those thousands of arrests and convictions per year, over decades, has been to consign these young men to the margins of our economy. With a criminal record, they are unable to get many jobs, prohibited from farm work programmes, and restricted in their overseas travel. Ironically, by reducing their legitimate opportunities, it increases the likelihood of their involvement in criminal activity such as housebreaking, larceny, robbery, etcetera,” he said.
He noted that already, the policy is enabling the police to deploy resources where they are most needed.
“In 2014, with our policy direction already clear, the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) arrested 5,300 fewer persons for minor offences, primarily possession of small quantities of ganja, than in 2013, thereby freeing tens of thousands of police man-hours to focus on serious criminals,” Mr. Bunting said.
He also noted that the passage of the Bill will remove a source of friction between the police and the community, which will result in an improvement in police-citizen relations.
The Minister, however, made it clear that the passage of the Bill does not create a “free- for-all” in the growing, transporting, dealing, or exporting of ganja. He said the security forces will continue to rigorously enforce Jamaica’s law consistent with international treaty obligations.
Member of Parliament for St. Andrew North Eastern, Delroy Chuck, while welcoming the passage of the Bill, noted that persons should be encouraged not to excessively use ganja.
“I have no doubt that the excessive use of marijuana, just like the excessive use of food or alcohol, is bad for the body. There can be no doubt that… we should be promoting the non-use of marijuana, cigarette smoking, and alcohol for good health,” Mr. Chuck said.
For his part, Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce, Hon. Anthony Hylton, noted that the establishment of a marijuana industry represents for Jamaica, a new and emerging sector with tremendous possibilities.
He added that while the cannabis industry has been developing organically, every effort must now be made for it to achieve its full potential.
“This means adopting a strong commercial approach, based on entrepreneurial practices that are market-driven, broad-based, and results in value-added outputs of both goods and services,” Mr. Hylton said.
He noted that the Ministry has been involved in the efforts to establish a local medical marijuana industry, through the development of regulations, standards, intellectual property provisions, investment promotion, and the involvement of the micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSME).
Mr. Hylton also welcomed the provisions in the Bill for the creation of a Cannabis Licensing Authority to regulate hemp and medicinal ganja.
Mr. Hylton noted that in moving the hemp industry forward, a cross Ministry consultative group has been established and draft regulations governing the establishment of industrial hemp as a viable investment opportunity has been developed, taking into consideration the role of the local farming community.
“Much work has already been done by this consultative working group and further consultations towards finalisation of hemp regulations awaits the passage into law by this Honourable House,” he stated.
In closing the debate, Mr. Bunting noted that the legislation was covering new ground and will be kept under constant review, while adding that the implementation of the provisions of the Bill will take some time.
The legislation was passed in the Senate on Friday, February 6, with five amendments.
Education Minister announces Platinum Partnerships for internet and tablet program amidst COVID surge
By Shaniek Smith
#TurksandCaicos, January 15, 2022 – Schools did not resume in person learning in the Turks and Caicos on January 4, instead it was back to virtual classes for 7,400 children in the British overseas territory due to an omicron-driven surge in Covid-19 infections.
It was announced on the New Year’s Day holiday for TCI, January 3 in a press conference hosted by Rachel Taylor, the Minister of Education, and attended by Jamell Robinson, Minister of Health and supported by Premier Washington Misick, who was also at the live event.
In a promised update, parents got the not-so-good-news, virtual classes would resume at least until the end of January due to the surge and staff shortages being experienced. Turks and Caicos, up to Thursday January 14 had over 800 active cases, five new deaths and a 600 per cent increase in hospitalisations. The Minister said the decision was in the interest of safety.
The Minister also promised to get devices and internet to students in order for them to participate in learning during this virtual-only season. The press conference on January 13, welcomed partners Flow, Digicel and the Pine Cay Project.
In her address, chair of the Pine Cay Project, Marie Landel, said that an urgent call from Dr. Carlton Mills, a member of their board of trustees revealed that about 750 students would be without internet connection and devices.
The Pine Cay Project responded to that information and has agreed to pay for internet for 30 days students, with its partner in the initiative, DigicelTCI. It is an $18,000 investment in education continuity for hundreds of children.
“We had strong discussions on what we should do with the money that we collect every year, so yesterday we agreed to the funding in emergency situation of 300 internet connections and devices that are going to help the students in need, and we’re very proud to be able to act quickly,” Landel expressed.
Additionally, the Marketing Manager at Digicel TCI, Mr Drexler Smith, said Digicel has partnered with the Ministry of Education to provide about 1,000 tablets for public schools. Smith added that 75 MiFi devices valued at 7,000 dollars were provided; they come with free data services for up to three months for students in need.
Digicel has also created a special education plan for e-learning with specific zero-rated sites and applications. The company partnered with Pine Cay and other private entities in this regard. Various schools and educational facilities in South Caicos, Five Cays, and Providenciales have benefitted from laptops, data plans, MiFi’s, and e-learning kits.
Marketing Executive Flow TCI, Darron Hilaire, also shared the contributions Flow made to the education sector since the pandemic.
“Within the last three years, Flow TCI, through our charitable foundation, would have donated $130,000 worth of ICT equipment to 2 schools respectively in Grand Turk and in Providenciales for the outfitting of the new computer labs to help facilitate the ministry’s vision to foster an efficient e-learning environment for students,” he said.
Mr. Hilaire added that within the first year of the pandemic, Flow responded to requests from the Ministry to increase the bandwidth to public schools in the TCI. Hilaire said Flow home internet speed doubles automatically at no cost to its customers in early July.
He said that within the last 60 days, Flow TCI announced a recent donation of $25,000 dollars to two schools in North Caicos and one in Providenciales. The donation was in aid of increasing connectivity and infrastructural upgrades.
“As we come to the end of this phase of the project, our objective is to look at doing the same for other schools in the second phase of the projects to further arm our schools with the access to technology to provide the best quality education to students,” Hilaire added.
Amanyara Resort, not present at the press event, was said to be working on additional laptops for hundreds of children despite having already donated to several schools in Providenciales.
Minister Rachel Taylor and her team, including Eugene Grant, ICT Education Officer at the Ministry of Education and Mark Garland, Deputy Director of Education thanked the donors; they were labelled Platinum Partners by the Minister.
Over 5000 COVID cases on Cruises, CDC investigations launched
By Dana Malcolm
#January 15, 2022 – Cruises have continued across the Americas despite the US Centers for Disease Control dire warning that even vaccinated individuals should be wary of them. Now the CDC informs that Coronavirus cases have been reported on every cruise ship sailing with passengers in U.S. waters.
According to the CDC, all 92 ships with passengers have met the threshold for investigation by the public health agency. In every case, the CDC has either started an investigation or has investigated.
The CDC warned travellers including those who are vaccinated to avoid cruising in December, following the announcement videos surfaced of jam-packed cruise ships with unmasked passengers ringing in the New Year.
Meanwhile, Grand Turk is still welcoming cruise ships. Eleven cruise ships are scheduled to dock at the Grand Turk Cruise Center throughout January, according to the port schedule.
Jamell Robinson, TCI Minister of Health has confirmed that ships have been allowed to dock in Grand Turk with positive COVID cases on board.
He said. “Now in each ship there are stations or places for isolation on board…Just because a vessel has people with Covid-19 on it doesn’t necessarily mean we wouldn’t allow them to disembark.”
The minister explained the number of positive cases recorded on cruise ships that had arrived in Grand Turk was .001 per cent of all guests and they were not allowed to disembark.
So far, Turks and Caicos has turned away at least one cruise liner due to fears of COVID exposure in the capital, which has gone from a handful of active cases to now 111, as of January 14.
The US Centers for Disease Control reported on Tuesday that COVID-19 cases on cruise ships have increased to 30 times what they were in mid-December.
New York, US Epicenter for Omicron “turning the corner”
By Shanieka Smith
#USA, January 15, 2022 – Today, New York is seeing a downward trend in Covid-19 cases, as officials revealed, “we are turning the corner” on Friday in updating on the state of affairs in the city, labelled the epicenter of omicron for the United States.
Before, data from the New York State Department of Health showed that the number of new coronavirus infections per 100,000 vaccinated residents in the State, rose from 29.8 in the first week of December to 222.3 last week. Also, the rate of new cases in unvaccinated adults rose from 239.6 to 1,583.1 per 100,000.
New York is a key source market for the Turks and Caicos and much of the Caribbean, which is heavily reliant upon winter travellers. The data showed, too, that vaccine effectiveness against severe infection remained high.
Only 4.59 fully vaccinated adults out of 100,000 were hospitalised with COVID-19 in the week of December 27. However, that number increased, and the hospitalisation rate for the unvaccinated is nearly 13 times higher.
New York’s rolling positivity rate fell below 20% in recent days, but media reports indicate the death toll in the State hit a startling high of 195 for the first time since the mass vaccination rollout.
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