Any reader of this newspaper will be well aware of the proposed changes to the laws dealing with the use of marijuana. These changes are being piloted by the Minister of Justice by way of the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Bill (2015)¬¬, which was recently approved by Cabinet, and is currently being debated by the Senate. If passed, this Bill will bring about a sea-change to the marijuana laws in Jamaica and allow for the emergence of a medical marijuana industry¬¬––an industry currently valued at US$3 billion in the U.S.A alone and estimated to increase to US$35 billion by 2020, if legalised at the federal level. This article compares the existing legal framework in Jamaica for medical marijuana with the proposed reforms.
Presently, the use and trade of ganja (as it is referred to in the legislation), whether for medicinal purposes or otherwise, is governed by the Dangerous Drugs Act (1996) (“the Act”), and to some extent, also by the Food and Drugs Act (1975). The current definition of ganja in the Act excludes medicinal preparations made from the ganja plant. However, while medicinal preparations made from ganja are excluded, and technically therefore, are not illegal, the application of other provisions within the Act, make it difficult to be in the business of medical marijuana without carrying out an illegal activity. This is because, while the final product is legal, the raw material (ganja) itself remains illegal as well as all dealings with it.
For illustration, if a pharmaceutical company is interested in manufacturing and distributing a medicinal preparation derived from ganja, it may encounter the following legal obstacles under the existing laws:
• Cultivating, gathering or producing ganja is illegal. So too is being the owner or occupier of any premises for the cultivation or storage of ganja, or using or knowingly permitting premises to be used for the cultivation or storage of ganja. Therefore, the company will not be able to legally grow the ganja in Jamaica.
• If the company consequently decides to purchase the ganja locally (from someone who is illegally cultivating and selling ganja), it may be guilty of “dealing in ganja”. Also, in transporting the ganja it may be guilty of “using, owning, or permitting a conveyance to be used for carrying ganja”, and of course, also “being in possession of ganja”.
• Importation of ganja is similarly an offence. Nonetheless, the company may be able to obtain import authorization from the Chief Medical Officer under section 14 of the Act. Oddly enough, however, the Import Certificate (Form C) lists as one of its conditions that “this authorization is not a licence to be in possession of or to supply the drug imported”. Accordingly, the company may be in the anomalous position of having lawfully imported the ganja, yet unlawfully in possession of it!
It is therefore clear that the current legislative framework in Jamaica is prohibitive of a local medical marijuana industry. However, change appears to be on the horizon. The legislative amendments being contemplated by Parliament in the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Bill (2015)¬¬ will bring about significant reform. According to its long title, the Bill is intended to “provide for, among other things, the modification of penalties for the possession of ganja in specified small quantities and the smoking of ganja in specified circumstances, and for a scheme of licences, permits and other authorizations for medical, therapeutic or scientific purposes.”