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Jamaica Gets Liberal with Weed
2/19/2015 11:49:34 AM

By Bert Wilkinson, Special from the New York Amsterdam News

As Caribbean governments prepare to review region-wide legislation allowing for medical marijuana use and a relaxation of laws for possession of infinitesimal amounts, the Obama administration wants the island to know that it is not comfortable with the island’s move towards decriminalization.

This much was communicated to Jamaican government officials in the past week as legislators prepare to debate a bill that would legalize small amounts in a person’s possession or private home. The cabinet of Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller has already approved its debate even as Caribbean leaders are preparing to have a full debate on the issue, possibly at two scheduled summits to be held before July.

As proposed, possession of two ounces or less would be considered a misdemeanor that would not be pinned to a person’s record. The bill will also allow a person to cultivate no more than five marijuana plants for personal use.

But these moves are not sitting that well with American administration officials like William Brownfield, assistant secretary of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, as the U.S. is worried about increased inflows of marijuana into American cities. He argued that Jamaica already accounts for 80 percent of the weed that is illegally shipped into the country and wants Jamaican officials to pay attention to a string of international drug treaties it has already signed onto.

“With or without the legalization of ganja, the decriminalization of ganja, the importation of ganja into the U.S. remains against the law, and the issue then is how much impact will legalization or decriminalization will have on that. And, I can assure you that, from the U.S. side, we will continue to pursue maximum efforts to prevent any import in the United States and we will request and expect complete co-operation from law enforcement authorities of the government of Jamaica in eliminating this sort of trafficking,” Brownfield told reporters.

The Jamaican Senate is debating amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Amendment Act that seek to decriminalize marijuana use and possession of small amounts and to reform fines associated with arrests and convictions. The bill has so far received critical acclaim from a wide cross section of society, and Justice Minister Mark Golding has said that the island has to be prepared to take advantage of an emerging market for medical marijuana.

“We need to position ourselves to take advantage of the significant economic opportunities offered by this emerging industry,” he said.

Brownfield, on the other hand, says that while other trade bloc states do produce marijuana in varying amounts, Jamaica is stuck with the greatest name recognition and association with the drug.

“I suppose, for the quality of its product as well as the quantity of its product … [Jamaica] in a sense has a more unique set of problems and challenges than do most other Caribbean states, in that most of the other states of the region are dealing with the impact of trafficking, external forces who move their products through their nation or their maritime or airspace en route to market in a third country,” said Brownfield.

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