Jamaica is giving the green light to ganja.
The Caribbean island nation will soon decriminalize marijuana possession, joining a growing list of countries that are loosening the knot on cannabis. Minister of Justice Mark Golding announced June 12 that Jamaica’s Dangerous Drugs Act would be amended this summer.

Jamaica MarijuanaThe prime minister’s cabinet made the decision early in June, Golding said.

“Cabinet approved certain changes to the law relating to ganja,” he said. “These relate to possession of small quantities of ganja for personal use, the smoking of ganja in private places and the use of ganja for medical-medicinal purposes. Approval has been given also to a proposal for the decriminalization of the use of ganja for religious purposes.”

Criminal Penalties for Ganja Removed in Jamaica

When the change becomes law, possession of up to 2 ounces of weed will be treated as a civil violation, with tickets and fines rather than arrest or jail time. Offenders will be given 30 days to pay fines. After that, their cases will be treated as minor criminal offenses punishable with community service.

At the same time, the Jamaican government hopes to clear the criminal records of people convicted of possession in the past. Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller plans to introduce a bill in the parliament that would expunge the records of people convicted of possessing small amounts of weed – a common offense in Jamaica.

“Too many of our young people have ended up with criminal convictions after being caught with a spliff, something that has affected their ability to do things like get jobs and get visas to travel overseas,” Golding said.

Marijuana is currently illegal in Jamaica, but it has long been an integral part of the local economy, with law enforcement often looking the other way. Still, criminal penalties can impose a harsh, unfair burden on users.

Following in Uruguay’s Footsteps

Last year, the South American nation of Uruguay became the first in the world to completely legalize the marijuana industry. The drug is expected to go on sale in pharmacies there by the end of 2014.

Officials in Uruguay have touted their program as a novel approach to cutting drug violence by taking the market out of the hands of cartels. That logic has drawn the attention of other world leaders, especially in Latin American and the Caribbean.Jamaica Flag

Meanwhile, in the United States, Washington State and Colorado both legalized recreational weed in 2012. The first retail pot shops opened their doors in Colorado in January.

In all these places, legal weed promises hefty tax revenues, potential health benefits, and major reforms to the criminal justice system. But in Jamaica, it also promises greater religious freedom.

Members of the Rastafari movement commonly use ganja for spiritual purposes. They have had difficulty expressing this part of their faith everywhere they’ve lived, including Jamaica.

Now, Golding said, religious possession of weed will be decriminalized, giving the Rastafari their first safe semi-protected haven. Medical marijuana and marijuana used in scientific research will also be decriminalized, he said.

The decision by the prime minister and her cabinet won’t completely legalize ganja. But the country is on a short list of possible candidates for full legalization in coming years.

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