“In years to come, we will look back (with pride) at what has happened here in Jamaica and the changes that have taken (place with) how we treat cannabis. We are ahead of the curve. It has been revolutionary. We are among few countries in the world that have made these moves,” he said.
Minister McNeill was speaking at the Beckley Foundation Conference on Jamaica’s Cannabis Reforms and Regulations on Friday, November 13, at the Swept Away Resort in Negril, Westmoreland.
The ‘Ganja Law’ or ‘Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act 2015, which came into effect on April 15, makes possession of small quantities of marijuana (2 ounces or less) a non-arrestable, but ticketable offence that attracts no criminal record.
It also puts in place, regulations for marijuana use by persons of the Rastafarian faith and for medical, therapeutic and scientific purposes, including development of a legal industry for industrial hemp and medical marijuana.
Dr. McNeill said he endorses expunging the criminal records of persons convicted for possession of small quantities of ganja, noting that such records have marred the future of many young persons.
“That, to me, is one of the most important changes in the legislation,” he said, noting that he is also pleased with the protection provided for one of the sacraments of the Rastafarian religion.
Dr. McNeill said development of the marijuana industry also offers tremendous economic benefits “and as we move along, these benefits will come to pass.”
The Government, he pointed out, is seeking to ensure that the benefits will redound to a wide cross section of Jamaicans, noting that work towards this end had already started in the form of community consultations.
Dr. McNeill said the efforts of the Beckley Foundation and the discussions during the conference will go towards shaping the policy being undertaken by the Ministry of Justice.
He commended Justice Minister, Senator the Hon. Mark Golding, in leading the process and protecting the interest of Jamaica.
“He took (reform and regulation) in hand and I think that the methodology that he has used is one that will be (replicated) by many other countries when they want to treat with this very same thing,” he said.
In the meantime, Technology, Energy and Mining Minister Phillip Paulwell, says the ‘small man’ must ensure that he becomes a major player in the new industry.
The Minister said efforts will be made to ensure that the small ganja farmers who have been in the system a long time are not squeezed out by persons with wealth.
“There are some people who are concerned that with us allowing ganja to be used for medicinal purposes, it’s only the big man who is going to be involved in this thing, and it is only the big people who will be a part of this. That cannot be so, because under the illegal regime, it was the small man who struggled and went about the business and in this new era we have to ensure that there is space for every single Jamaican who want to be a part of this legal framework to grow ganja, to extract the medicine from it,” he said.
The Minister pointed out that under the regulated system, producers and growers will be licensed and every effort will be made to ensure that law and order prevails in the industry, as the Government moves to ensure that true medicinal and financial benefits are derived from the crop.
Mr. Paulwell said that a major public education drive will be undertaken to ensure that persons are made aware
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