Jamaica Passes Historic Marijuana Law On Bob Marley's 70th Birthday

By McCarton Ackerman 02/10/15

While not still completely legal, possessing significant amounts of marijuana has been decriminalized.

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Jamaica passed a landmark marijuana law on what would have been Bob Marley’s 70th birthday, making possession of small amounts of the drug a non-arrestable offense.

The new law was passed in parliament last Friday and makes possessing two ounces or less of marijuana a ticketable offense, but no longer one that can put the owner in jail. Jamaica has long debated whether marijuana should be legal, but the issue took center stage once again last year when 31-year-old Mario Doane was beaten to death in his cell shortly after his arrest for possessing a marijuana cigarette.

From January to July 2013, many of the 4,367 people convicted for drug-related offenses received sentences for marijuana possession. Nearly 71% of those committed in Kingston magistrate court during this same time period were also there for cannabis possession. Raymond Pryce, Deputy General Secretary of People’s National Party, believes this “affects intergenerational wealth and the ability of the individual to advance in society.”

Not only will the legalization of marijuana affect Jamaica’s prison system, but it will also open the door for a lawful and regulated marijuana industry for medical, therapeutic, and scientific purposes. Members of the House of Representative will discuss this in the new Parliamentary year, but plenty of Jamaicans are well aware that the medical marijuana industry is a $2.6 billion business. Since many users consider Jamaican pot to be the best in the world, they believe this could be a simple way to boost their economy.

“The potential for Jamaica to market ganja, to make money out of it, to have tourists smoke it and come here and enjoy it...they are so enormous,” said marijuana activist and attorney Lord Anthony Gifford. “I think we should go the whole hog [and legalize it] as Uruguay is doing.”

A private company called Medicanja has already been listed on the Jamaican stock exchange since the end of 2013. Led by Dr. Henry Lowe, a leader in THC studies for medical purposes, they plan to produce CBD-based medical products that fall under legally acceptable medicinal use.

But despite Jamaica’s reputation as a pot-heavy culture, the drug has been illegal in the country for over 100 years. Plenty of conservative Jamaicans believe that pot is a harmful drug that harms both the user and society as a whole.

"When the THC acts on the cannabinoid receptors in the brain, it effects perception, it causes some people to have hallucinations. It effects memory, concentration, libido...and I’m sure any Jamaican you ask, when they’re in school, the guys who were smoking in class did not do well in their schoolwork,” said Dr. Dayton Campbell, a member of Parliament. “There is clear evidence that it effects the development of the brain. I believe that if it becomes more readily available, more [people] will abuse it."

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.