Lawmakers in Kingston Tuesday debated marijuana decriminalization, even though there is no bill pending or vote scheduled. The move came as the evergreen issue of marijuana law reform picks up momentum in the home of reggae and Rastafari, with other Caribbean and nearby island nations and US states contemplating similar pot law changes.
[image:1 align:left]Marijuana decriminalization or legalization has been a topic of discussion in Jamaica for decades, but no governments have moved beyond the talking stage. As the winds of change blow across the hemisphere, however, pressure for reform is mounting.
In Tuesday's debate, lawmakers complained that young men are getting criminal records for possession of ganja at the rate of 300 a week. Those criminal records lessen those people's job prospects, the lawmakers said.
"There is no doubt that ganja can have harmful effects on an individual. But this does not warrant criminalization of thousands of Jamaicans for their personal choice and use, some for reasons deep-rooted in culture," opposition Jamaica Labor Party lawmaker Daryl Vaz, a former information minister, said in remarks reported by LinkUpRadio.com.
"For personal use, the punishment of a criminal record is too much," agreed People's National Party (PNP) Minister of State for Tourism & Entertainment Damion Crawford, the son of a Rastafarian. Too many Jamaicans suffer the consequences of those criminal records for ganja, he added.
The debate came after a PNP lawmaker, Raymond Pryce, filed a motion to open discussion. Pryce argued that the plant has long been a part of Jamaica's history despite being prohibited in 1913. Pryce said that there was great commercial and medicinal potential in the plant. The plant has long been used medicinally as well as recreationally by rural Jamaicans, and is considered a sacred sacrament by Rastafarians.
More than a decade ago, a government-appointed commission recommending decriminalizing the possession and cultivation of small amounts of pot, saying the herb was "culturally entrenched" in the county, but that recommendation went nowhere in the face of fears of angering the US. Now, with two US states having already legalized marijuana and more getting in line to do so, the fear of dire reaction from Washington has largely dissipated.
And then there were two. Proponents of a second 2014 marijuana legalization initiative filed the measure with the California secretary of state's office last Friday. An earlier 2014 legalization initiative has already entered the signature-gathering phase.
[image:1 align:right]The measure filed last Friday, the Marijuana Control, Legalization and Revenue Act of 2014, would legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana possession, cultivation, and sales. It would also allow adults to grow up to 100 square feet of marijuana each -- provided they have the permission of the property owner and the grow is fenced.
The measure explicitly protects the rights of medical marijuana users, stating that it "shall not affect the individual and group medical rights and protection afforded" under Proposition 215 and subsequent legislation.
It would create a California Cannabis Commission with enumerated powers to regulate and control commercial marijuana cultivation and sales. Commission members could not include people currently holding state or local elected office or people who have been involved with a marijuana business in the past two years. The commission must include an attorney, an accountant, a member of law enforcement, a small business owner, and a member of the public at large.
The initiative touts itself as the first "open source" California legalization initiative and was largely drafted through an online consultative process by veteran activists. It must now have its title and ballot summary approved by the state attorney general's office, which has 60 days to do so, and if approved, signature-gathering can then commence.
Under California initiative law, measures approved for signature-gathering then have 150 days to collect signatures. This year, they need 504,000 valid voter signatures to make the ballot.
The Hererite perennial California Cannabis Hemp Initiative, which would also legalize marijuana in the state, has already entered the signature-gathering phase and has until February to come up with sufficient signatures.
The conventional wisdom among initiative experts and marijuana reform backers is that the huge number of signatures required to make the ballot in California necessitates paid signature gatherers and a budget of at least a million dollars. And that's just to make the ballot. Actually winning an election would likely cost several million dollars more.
The conventional wisdom is also calling for California to hold off until the 2016 presidential year, when expected higher turnout is believed to boost prospects for victory. But some Californians clearly aren't waiting. The question is whether this will turn out to be a repeat of 2012, when multiple legalization initiatives sought to make the ballot, but, lacking funds and unity, none did.