use ganja as sacrament
by Balford Henry Observer writer
Sunday, March 21, 2004
The Joint Select Committee which considered the recommendations of the National Commission on Ganja has recommended that the laws be amended to allow Rastafarians to use small quantities of ganja for "sacramental purposes".
But the committee acknowleged that implementing the recommendation could present a challenge, "for under existing international conventions, as signed by the Government of Jamaica, it was not possible to decriminalise the use of ganja for sacramental purposes".
In a companion recommendation, it suggested that Jamaica begins an international campaign to revise the International Convention on Psychotropic Substances (1971) so as to address the local situation with respect to the religious use of the ganja plant, Cannabis Sativa.
The recommendations were included in the report from the committee which was finally tabled in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
The report said that the chairman of the National Commission on Ganja, University of the West Indies sociologist, Barry Chevannes, had informed the committee that his commission's recommendation was based on the conclusion that Rastafarians held a sincere belief in ganja's sacramental value, "and were not merely trying to justify simple use", so their religious rights ought to be respected.
The committee recommended further that Jamaica's permanent representative (Sharon Hay-Webster) to the Joint Parliamentary Assembly of the African, Caribbean and Pacific/European Union states, be furnished with the relevant documents to allow her to make representation on the re-examination of the international conventions at that forum.
"In particular, we recommend that a case be made for Rastafarians to be exempted under Article 32 of the Convention on Psychotroipic Substances, 1971, which protects religious use of substances prohibited under that treaty," the Select Committee said.
This was in response to the commission's proposal that, as a matter of great urgency, Jamaica should embark on diplomatic initiatives with its Caricom partners and other countries outside the region, in particular members of the European Union, with a view to: (a) elicit support for its internal position; and (b) to influence the international community to re-examine the status of Cannabis.
In terms of the proposal from the commission, "that the relevant laws be amended so that ganja be decriminalised for the private, personal use of small quantities by adults", the committee recommended that the Dangerous Drugs Act be amended so that the use of small quantities of ganja in public, "be made a minor offence to be tried in petty sessions of the Resident Magistrate's Court".
The committee also recommended that the criminal records (Rehabilitation of Offenders) Act be amended, "to ensure that these minor offences not be recorded".
On the commission's proposal that, "decriminalisation for personal use should exclude smoking by juveniles, or by anyone in premises accessible to the public", the committee recommended that where minors are found using ganja, the child and care-giver be referred to counselling and effective, appropriate action be taken to discourage further use by the child, in keeping with provisions related to tobacco and alcohol under the Child Care and Protection Act.
In terms of smoking in public places, the committee said that in cases where persons break the law by smoking ganja in premises accessible to the public, the owner of the premises be subject to the relevant penalties, be it a fine or any other sanction.
The committee was chaired by Dr Morais Guy and included MPs Dr Patrick Harris, Sharon Hay-Webster, Richard Azan, Ralston Hanson, Dr Donald Rhodd, Mike Henry, Delroy Chuck, Dr Kenneth Baugh and Clive Mullings, as well as senators Navel Clarke, Floyd Morris, Dr Trevor Munroe, Kern Spencer, Dorothy Lightbourne and Shirley Williams. Secretary was Tracey Heron.
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