KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) — Marijuana has been pervasive but illegal in Jamaica for decades, consumed as a medicinal herb, puffed as a sacrament by Rastafarians and sung about in the island’s famed reggae music.
After many years of dialogue about the culturally entrenched drug, and emboldened by changes to drug laws in U.S. states, Jamaica’s Parliament on Tuesday night gave final approval to an act decriminalizing small amounts of pot and establishing a licensing agency to regulate a lawful medical marijuana industry.
The historic amendments pave the way for a “cannabis licensing authority” to be established to deal with regulating the cultivation and distribution of marijuana for medical and scientific purposes. Both houses of Jamaica’s legislature have approved the legislation.
And in a victory for religious freedom, adherents of the homegrown Rastafari spiritual movement can now freely use marijuana for sacramental purposes for the first time on the tropical island.
The law makes possession of up to 2 ounces of marijuana a petty offense that could result in a ticket but not in a criminal record. Cultivation of five or fewer plants on any premises would be permitted.
Tourists who are prescribed medical marijuana abroad will soon be able to apply for permits authorizing them to legally buy small amounts of Jamaican weed, or “ganja” as it is known locally.
Peter Bunting, the island’s national security minister, said the legislation does not mean Jamaica plans to soften its stance on transnational drug trafficking or cultivation of illegal plots. Jamaica has long been considered the Caribbean’s largest supplier of pot to the U.S. and regional islands.
Jamaican officials now have high hopes that the island can become a player in the nascent medical marijuana industry, health tourism and the development of innovative pot-derived items. Local scientists already have a history of creating marijuana-derived products, such as “Canasol,” which helps relieve pressure in the eyes of glaucoma patients.