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Medical & Personal Marijuana Legalization: Jamaica Cabinet Approves Decriminalization of Possession of 'Ganja,' Rastafarians Rejoice

First Posted: Jun 13, 2014 01:25 PM EDT

A branch of the Jamaican government made a decision to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana on Thursday.

During a press conference, Minister of Justice Mark Golding announced that this summer, the Dangerous Drugs Act will be amended, Reuters reports. According to Golding, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller decided to decriminalize the drug, known as "ganja" in the country, on June 2.

"Cabinet approved certain changes to the law relating to ganja," Golding 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."

Under the act, possession of the drug in amounts weighing two ounces (56.70 grams) or less will not be considered a criminal offense, but will result in a ticket "payable outside the court system," Golding said. Those who do not pay the ticket within 30 days will face a minor offense punishable by community service.

According to Golding, decriminalization will help many "young people" who have been dubbed criminals -- which precludes them from opportunities like jobs and travel visas -- after "being caught with a 'spliff.'"

"... this administration is not unmindful of the health risks associated with smoking ganja and the implications for the public health systems and services ...," Golding said. "However, the reality is that the imposition of harsh penalties has not proved to be an effective deterrent to smoking ganja, and ganja use is already prevalent in our society. In fact, prohibition serves to enhance the mystique of the forbidden activity, and thereby encourages adolescent use."

A minor who is caught with marijuana will be sent to the National Council for Drug Abuse for rehabilitation, the Caribbean Journal reports.

"The objective is to provide a more enlightened approach to dealing with possession of small quantities and smoking, while still meeting the ends of justice," Golding said, adding that the move will help alleviate stress on the country's courts.

The decriminalization of marijuana used for religious purposes was also approved.

"We are ... happy that the government has followed through, and note their intention to also recognize the protection of the sacrament of Rastafari," Olivia "Babsy" Grange, Parliament member, said according to Jamaica Observer. "We also fully recognize the work and advocacy of the late Professor Barry Chevannes and the Rastafarian community throughout the years in seeking recognition and protection of the use of marijuana as a sacrament of Rastafari."

The act will also decriminalize the use of marijuana for therapy and research performed by an accredited institution. Golding will propose a bill to expunge criminal records of those convicted for possession of small amounts of marijuana, as well as a public education campaign.

According to the Caribbean Journal, the act passed in Cabinet but it is not in effect until it is introduced to and approved by Parliament.

Follow Scharon Harding on Twitter: @ScharHar.

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