Jamaica decriminalises marijuana use

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Jah P., left, and Jah Henry, smoke marijuana from a chillum pipe in Kingston, Jamaica, Wednesday, Aug. 18, 1999.Image source, AP
Image caption,
Rastafarians revere marijuana, or ganja as they call it, and smoke it regularly.

Jamaica has decriminalised the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use.

The country's parliament passed a much-debated law allowing the possession of up to 2oz (57g) of marijuana.

It will also allow for a licensing authority to oversee the medical and scientific uses of the plant.

Marijuana is widely grown in Jamaica and has cultural roots there - but the decriminalisation drive ran into fears of possible sanction from the US.

The island nation is thought to be the biggest Caribbean exporter of marijuana - also known as ganja and cannabis - to the US.

Its decision to relax domestic restrictions against marijuana forms part of a broader global trend.

Several Latin American countries and US states - most recently Alaska - have decriminalised the drug in recent years.

Image source, AP
Image caption,
Marijuana has been illegal in Jamaica, despite its role in the Rastafarian faith

The decriminalisation measures were approved by the Jamaican cabinet last month and by its Senate in early February.

Tuesday night's vote in the upper house of parliament means the measures can now be passed into law.

The law will also allow Jamaica's Rastafarians to use marijuana for religious purposes.

The plant is regarded as sacred by members of the faith, and has been celebrated in the island's reggae music.

Jamaica's national security minister, Peter Bunting, said the law does not represent any easing of Jamaica's stance on the international drugs trade, or on the illegal cultivation of the plant.

Decriminalisation spreading

South and Central America and the Caribbean countries have been battling the impact of drug trafficking and drug use for decades.

Cocaine and marijuana produced in the region is transported through many countries, their citizens turned into consumers by the trade.

But many governments have begun to recognise that heavy-handed tactics and the crackdown on drugs have failed, as trafficking and consumption continue to grow, correspondents say.

Elsewhere in the region:

  • Mexico, Colombia and Argentina decriminalised the possession of small amounts of marijuana a few years ago
  • In Guatemala, President Otto Perez Molina is proposing moves to push for the legalisation of marijuana and potentially other drugs
  • Chile and Costa Rica are also debating the introduction of medical marijuana policies
  • Uruguay last year became the first country in the world to approve the growth, sale and distribution of marijuana