The long anticipated moment for many Jamaicans has finally arrived – marijuana has been decriminalized. I can speak of this anticipation because I am a Jamaican, and though not all of us smoke weed, many abhor the criminal offenses attached to burning the herb.
On Tuesday evening after much debate, the Jamaican parliament passed an act to legalize small amounts of marijuana and create a licensing agency to regulate a lawful medical marijuana industry in the country.
Possession of up to two ounces of marijuana is now a petty offense on the island and would no longer result in a criminal record. Jamaicans are also able to legally cultivate five or less plants on their property without fear of prosecution. And ganja, as it's otherwise known, can now be officially used as part of one's religious rites.
Furthermore, the lawmakers seek to set up a "cannabis licensing authority" to handle the regulations of the farming and distribution of marijuana for scientific, medical and therapeutic purposes.
Though many may think weed is synonymous to Jamaica, the plant has as much taboo and stigma attached to it on the small Caribbean island as any other country. However, this has never really stopped numerous Jamaicans from enjoying the benefits of the herb.
For years, there have been countless debates about whether or not to decriminalize the drug, with the main hesitation being officials' fear of international treaty violations. But after witnessing U.S. states like Colorado, Washington and now Alaska relaxing their marijuana laws, a new stance has been taken.
As expected, this decriminalization does not come without restrictions. According to Jamaica's national security minister, Peter Bunting, this new law does not soften the rules and guidelines pertaining to illegal cultivation and international drug trafficking.
"The passage of this legislation does not create a free-for-all in the growing, transporting, dealing or exporting of ganja. The security forces will continue to rigorously enforce Jamaican law consistent with our international treaty obligations," Bunting stated in Parliament.
Days before Tuesdays historic vote, the U.S. assistant secretary for counter-narcotics affairs William Brownfield told the Associated Press that although "Jamaican law is of course Jamaica's own business, and Jamaica's sovereign decision" - the trafficking of marijuana into the U.S. remains against the law.
"We expect that Jamaica and all states party to the U.N. Drug Conventions will uphold their obligations, including a firm commitment to combating and dismantling criminal organizations involved in drug trafficking," Brownfield informed the AP.
The legalization of pot in Jamaica also coincidentally falls within the birth month of reggae icon Bob Marley, who would undoubtedly be in full support of the new legislation.
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