The greatest achievement of the present Jamaican Government has been the liberation of the Ganja laws and the opening up of opportunities for Jamaica to capitalize on the many opportunities available to benefit from the Green Gold for which Jamaica is famous. RASTA had been saying for decades that Ganja was for ‘the healing of the nation’. Now, at last the doors have been opened by an enlightened administration, and RASTA gives thanks to all.
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.
A very important conference was held during the recent Rastafari RootzFest/HIGH TIMES Cannabis Cup in Negril, organized by the Ministries of Justice and Industry, Investment & Commerce. It was hosted by the Beckley Foundation – an international organization founded by the Countess of Weymss, Amanda Feilding in 1998 to provide a rigorous review of global drug policies and develop a scientific evidence base on which to build alternative policies. For the last 17 years the Beckley Foundation has brought together leading international experts to discuss the complex and taboo issues surrounding cannabis policy and to explore new regulatory models to protect health and reduce the disastrous collateral harms caused by prohibition.
Having built an excellent reputation for information it has shared via conferences, expert studies and publication of scientific papers, the Beckley Foundation was a natural choice to help Jamaica establish its cannabis industry, especially given the fact that founder Amanda Feilding maintains a home in Portland, Jamaica. The two-day conference on ‘Jamaica’s Regulated Cannabis Industry: First Steps’ heard leaders and high-level officials of the Jamaican Government, the Attorney General’s Office and the Drug Abuse Council, as well as medical marijuana scientists who all made presentations on the important steps necessary for development of the blossoming industry, including the legal and financial implications and guidelines.
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.
Justice Minister Senator Mark Golding explained the legal pathway and guidelines that Jamaica undertook to reach the final revision of the law while keeping it within international boundaries. Minister of Industry, Commerce & Investment Anthony Hylton gave a positive outlook on Jamaica’s opportunities. Dr. Kathy-Ann Brown, Deputy Director in the Attorney General’s Office, represented by explained the legal and financial restrictions within which the industry must operate to comply with international laws.
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.
Representing the RASTA community, Westmoreland Hemp & Ganja Farmers Association Chairman Ras Iyah-V praised the Sacramental Rights given under the revised Dangerous Drugs law that had made the RootzFest a unique and historic event.
“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.
“The big question – how do we develop an industry here in a way that we can market our products internationally. From my analysis of the situation, I know that the US Government is using State laws as a guise to develop their cannabis industry and at the same time to fight against Third World countries’ development. I don’t think the States could have been doing what they want if the Federal Government was not in league with it.
“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.”
Endorsing Ras Iyah-V, Senator Golding Minister of Justice, explained fully the decision of the Jamaican Government to grant sacramental rights to the Rastafari community. Addressing the topic specifically, he said:
“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.
“We are trying to approach this in a creative and responsible way. The law has tried to be holistic. I think our work in this area has been acknowledged around the world as being of significance and I just hope that we can get the balance that’s inherent in this exercise right. I am sure that errors will be made but on the whole I think it presents a tremendous opportunity for Jamaica and the world to arrive at a new and more humane way of regarding this plant, ganja.”
In her presentation, Conference host Amanda Feilding congratulated Jamaica for the pioneering step it has taken towards ganja legalization.
“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.”
Justice Minister Senator Mark Golding said that developments in the American states such as Colorado “… presented a window of opportunity to do some of the things that we wanted to do for many years and had not really felt that we could, because of the adverse international impact or reaction that we would have suffered.” He spoke of the law’s changes making ganja smoking a ticketable offense without prosecution, the expunging of records for ganja convictions for small personal amounts, and the freedom to grow 5 plants for personal use.
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.
Explaining that Jamaica has been adventurous in framing its Ganja legislation, Senator Golding said that the three Conventions that make up the international drug treaty system, the UN Single Convention of 1961 and two other subsequent conventions, requires the Cannabis Licensing Authority in designing the regulatory system to do so in a way that is compliant with Jamaica’s international obligations.
“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