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.