A panel of Jamaica's top government officials are reviewing recommendations to legalize small amounts of marijuana, but only for religious and medicinal uses.
The recommendations stem from a 2001 report that argues that moderate use of the illicit drug has no negative health effects and is culturally entrenched in Jamaica. As it stands, Jamaica is the United States' biggest marijuana supplier. If this measure were to go through, would America be one step closer to following suit?
The image of marijuana or ganja is synonymous with the island nation, for better or worse. Although possession and use of the drug is currently illegal, marijuana use is widely tolerated. But there can still be severe penalties if a person is convicted of possession. As in the debate being waged in America, many argue that marijuana legalization could cut down on low-level offenders.
"There have been many persons who have been lifelong smokers of ganja who have not moved to harder drugs at all," Rev. Webster Edwards, who served on the National Commission of Ganja, told the Associated Press. "Decriminalizing very, very small quantities will allow persons not to get strikes against them in the justice system."
Less people entering into the prison system is always a good thing, but another consequence of marijuana legalization would be the creation of a Caribbean Amsterdam. While some tourists already travel to Jamaica to engage in marijuana use, legalization could generate millions in tourism dollars.
So, why not legalize it? Unfortunately, America's war on drugs extends into other countries. As a U.S. ally, Jamaica runs the risks of violating international treaties. In fact, America has assisted the country in burning marijuana fields. There's also the question of medical tourism. American citizens currently cross the border in order to purchase medicine on the cheap. What's to stop American citizens with chronic pain from traveling to Jamaica to procure their medicine without threat of being thrown into jail?
Ultimately, the decision to decriminalize marijuana is in the hands of the Jamaican government. The debate has yet to begin, but there's no question that the United States will be watching the proceedings.
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(Photo: ANDREW WINNING/REUTERS/Landov)