ROSE HALL — Minister of Security Peter Bunting yesterday instructed members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force to turn a blind eye to persons smoking a ganja “spliff”, or who are in possession of less than two ounces of ganja, for the time being.
Under the amendment of the Dangerous Drugs Act, the possession of less that two ounces of ganja is now a ticketable offence that attracts a fine of $500.
However, at present, there are no tickets available for the police to issue to these offenders.
“At this moment you have no other option because it is a non-arrestable offence and it may be ticketed; but since there are no tickets currently available, just leave the persons alone,” Bunting told yesterday’s opening of the Jamaica Police Federation’s 72nd Annual Joint Central Conference at the Hilton Rose Hall Resort And Spa here.
He added: “You don’t want to be taking samples of two ounces or thereabout to send to the forensic lab. It is going to be a waste of police resources.
“That is not the objective, and I know it is very hard to change the mindset and the approach. The truth of the matter is, if you want an airtight case for a spliff for issuing a ticket, you would have to take that spliff and send it to the forensic lab to establish that this vegetable matter resembling ganja is actually ganja.
“That is not worth a fine for a $500 ticket.”
In the meantime, the minister told the police that “it is going to take a paradigm shift in your thinking around this [ganja] issue”.
“This is no longer a criminal offence; [so] it should not be a priority of the police to go after persons who possess a small quantity of ganja.”
Opposition spokesman on National Security, Derrick Smith, in his address to the conference, described the Government’s amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act as an added load to members of the police force.
“The recent amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act, decriminalizing the use of ganja, are nothing but additional, unnecessary burden brought to bear on the backs of police,” Smith argued.
“I say this because, if the process was properly thought out, your job would have been much, much simpler. You are now burdened with the task of ticketing people with more than two ounces of the weed, when you neither have the equipment to assess the amount of ganja nor even the tickets to hand out,” he said.
More than a month after the changes to the Dangerous Drugs Act (Ganja Bill) took effect, the Police High Command said it had not received any complaints about enforcement, but it appeared that, at this point, determining if a person was in possession of the legal amount of marijuana was a tricky matter.
“ . . . There is no scientific way (of knowing). In the absence of weighing, it becomes a guess game,” Deputy Commissioner of Police in Charge of Operations, Clifford Blake, conceded in a Jamaica Observer interview yesterday.
Blake said the police had always had access to scales (at stations), but that officers did not necessarily tote scales around in their mobile units to weigh weed.
Blake said, although there had been no challenges presented yet with enforcement, there would be opportunity for a review of the activities on the ground in regards to the amended law.
In addition to making possession of two ounces or less of marijuana a non-arrestable, ticketable offence that attracts no criminal record, the law now states that if a person found with a small quantity of ganja is a minor or an adult who appears to be dependent on the drug, they are to be referred to the National Council On Drug Abuse by the police officer issuing the ticket.
Minister of Justice Senator Mark Golding recently urged Jamaicans not to make a mockery of the police or the law, making it clear that decriminalization should not be confused with the government promoting ganja smoking.
“Yes, the law has changed and some of the harsh penalties have been removed, but this is not something for kids, as kids should not be smoking,” Golding told residents at a community sensitization meeting for farmers and hoteliers in Orange Hill, Westmoreland.
The bill decriminalizes ganja for medicinal, religious, scientific, and therapeutic purposes, but the drug still has not been legalized. As such, the law still prohibits the smoking of ganja in public places.
Individuals and entities must apply for licences and permits to use the weed for specified purposes, such as research.