The manner in which the revision of the Dangerous Drugs law was piloted by Senator Mark Golding, Minister of Justice through the minefields of Jamaica’s social, economic and religious groups – including RASTA – is to be commended. Jamaica has taken a pioneering step that treads carefully through the restrictions of the international treaties while providing previously unheard of freedoms for Jamaican ganja users and producers. The provision for sacramental use as a Constitutional human right of RASTA is unprecedented and opens the way for other users of the herb – nationally and internationally, also make claims for their very human right to use ganja as medication or recreation.
The detailed information shared by them showed the intense care with which all aspects of developing the industry are being considered. I can only share excerpts of the main presentations, but a full publication of all speeches with photographs and slides will be published by the Beckley Foundation shortly.
The Director of the Scientific Research Council, Dr. Winston Davidson, explained the caution with which Jamaica will test, approve and track the production of Jamaica’s medical marijuana plants. Professor Wayne McLaughlin of the University of the West Indies, explained the clinical and medical research the University has been engaged in. Dr. Andre Gordon, Chairman of the Cannabis Licensing Authority, described the process of registration and licensing that would be undertaken by his inter-governmental committee.Tourism Minister Wykeham McNeil spoke of the benefits possible to the industry, while Diane Edwards, President of JAMPRO, described the cultural and wellness tourism opportunities presented by the ganja industry. Stephen Wedderburn, Chief Technical Director of the Ministry of Industry, gave support to the presentation by Minister Anthony Hylton.
“We as grass roots people, we didn’t have any legal avenue. We had to smuggle, because we know the use of the herb and we knew that people wanted the plant, whether to use it medicinally or recreationally. So for the time being here in Jamaica – again I give thanks for the Amendment, because it enables I&I Rastafari to move more freer than we used to, and at the same time to look at the potential of the industry in terms of its support for grass-roots people.
“I have said on many occasions that I will neither stand, sit nor lie down and watch this industry be taken over by rich people or foreign investors. If we are to develop this industry, it MUST benefit Rastafari and it MUST benefit grass-roots people, because these are the people who have borne the brunt of the persecution. It’s we who when everyone was going left, right and center, I and I were the ones who kept going.
“I say, the Government of Jamaica has a responsibility to align themselves with other countries here in the Caribbean and Latin America – there are countries that are against this big stick that America has over everyone’s heads, that you can do what I say but not what I do. I think we have a duty and responsibility to align ourselves with these countries, because unity is strength, and as such – whether as a regional bloc or from the point of view that we are thinking similarly as countries – to make sure that we become strengthened in such a way that we have a say on the international political scene. Otherwise we will always have to succumb to this big stick that America has over our heads.”
“The Rastafarian people have suffered tremendously over many, many years in this country,” he said, “by actions taken against them and many of those actions related to ganja, so that was a burning issue that required reform. We felt that it was clearly unconstitutional for the law to prohibit the use of a sacrament by the Rastafarian people because the Charter of Rights in our Constitution guarantees freedom of religious expression.
“So that was one element of the reform. The Rastafarian community – for the first time their religion was acknowledged in a public statute in Jamaica and their right to possess ganja is now acknowledged in the law. There are provisions for the designation of religious spaces as areas where the prohibition or the restrictions on ganja use do not apply, there is provision for designation of lands for cultivation for sacramental purposes, and exempt events which are events primarily for the purpose of observing or celebrating the Rastafarian faith.
“It is wonderful,” she said “that Jamaica has now not only decriminalised cannabis, eliminating previous convictions for possession, but has also fully acknowledged the religious rights of the Rastafarians, thus becoming the first state to properly recognise the religious use of cannabis.
“On the global scene I think we have finally reached a ‘tipping point’. The ‘intellectual’ battle against the ‘War on Drugs’ has, for the most part, been won. Most intelligent people realize that it is impossible to eradicate a market through prohibition. Where there is a demand, there will always be a way to fill it. However, that is merely the ‘intellectual’ battle, the ‘battle on the ground’ has only just begun, and that is where Jamaica is now leading the way. There is no doubt that the ‘War on Drugs’ approach to the control of psychoactive substances has been a disaster, with catastrophic consequences at every level. I cannot think of another civil decision that has caused so much global suffering.
“Prohibition of psychoactive substances has created a vast criminal market, run by individuals, often acting with a ruthlessness which shakes the fabric of civilised society. It would have been much better if these substances had remained as an integral part of the social fabric, controlled by social pressure, with the purpose of minimising harms and optimising benefits.”
He also repeated his commitment to the existing ganja farming industry. “The challenge for Jamaica in developing a regulated cannabis industry is how to reconcile two objectives which are not necessarily fully aligned — the first objective is the policy of the Government to ensure that the regulated lawful industry that would emerge is to be an inclusive industry that allows small farmers, rural communities, persons who have been growing ganja for years and have suffered the brunt of that — because it’s been an illegal activity and there have been significant efforts by the state to eliminate that – those persons if they want to participate can do so. That’s the fundamental as an objective.
“I do think that in the design of the framework for Jamaica,” he said, “we need to push the envelope somewhat, in order to ensure that the principal objective of inclusion is not sacrificed on the alter of rigid and strict interpretation of the treaties. The United States itself has propounded that the treaties allow flexibility and I think Jamaica accepts the approach of flexibility in interpreting those treaties and so I will be expecting that the regulations will be designed in a way that does enable small farmers who want to come on board to do so.”
For RASTA, the Beckley Conference was a fitting partner event, providing a scientific, intellectual and academic foundation to underscore the physical manifestation of the revised Jamaican drug laws that was taking place a short distance away on the beautiful Negril beach. The speeches provided a full explanation of all aspects comprising the structure and development of the Jamaican ganja industry, establishing a good framework for unity between the Jamaican farms, businesses and scientific laboratories necessary for success. RASTA must and will keep an eye on all developments.
(c) Barbara Makeda Blake Hannah