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article imageJamaica moves to decriminalize marijuana possession

By AFP     Jun 13, 2014 in World

Marijuana possession is currently illegal in Jamaica but that could soon change.

The government of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has proposed to amend the Caribbean island nation's narcotics law to decriminalize possession of up to two ounces of marijuana -- known here as ganja.

The move, announced Thursday by Justice Minister Mark Golding, would mean possession of small amounts of the drug would lead to a fine.

The government has also given approval for the possession and use of marijuana for religious, medical or research purposes.

"The changes to the law contemplated are not novel," Golding said in a statement.

"The decriminalization of ganja in Jamaica has been the subject of considerable study and recommendations over the years."

As far back as 1977, a parliamentary committee proposed the decriminalization of marijuana for private use and the legalization of medical marijuana.

Then in 2001, Jamaica's National Commission on Ganja recommended the decriminalization of private use of small quantities of the drug by adults, as well as for religious purposes.

If parliament opts to approve the measure, Jamaica would follow in the footsteps of US states Colorado and Washington, as well as Uruguay, which have moved to legalize marijuana under certain circumstances.

More than 20 US states plus the District of Columbia allow marijuana to be prescribed for medical use.

The drug remains illegal in Jamaica because of United Nations conventions, which do make exceptions for medical and scientific uses.

Golding said the move was motivated by a need to "reduce the burdens on the court system."

"A criminal conviction and the attendant significant adverse long-term consequences are not justifiable for what is a relatively minor offense," he said.

Golding also said a bill would soon be introduced in parliament that would expunge the criminal records of those found guilty of possession of small amounts of marijuana.

It was not immediately clear when parliament would consider the government's proposals.

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