The government in Jamaica has taken the first concrete steps towards decriminalizing marijuana use by approving changes to drug laws, paving the way for reform in a country where marijuana politics are complicated by both cultural and criminal factors.
On June 12, Jamaica's Justice Minister Mark Golding announced that Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and her cabinet had approved modifications to the Dangerous Drugs Act (pdf), which end criminal penalties for possession of marijuana for personal use, reported The Guardian.
The modifications, which still have to be approved by the Jamaican Parliament, would mean that people found with up to two ounces of marijuana for personal use would receive a ticket and pay a fine, but would not be arrested and the infraction would not be reported on their criminal record.
The proposed changes would also decriminalize possession for religious and therapeutic purposes and allow marijuana to be grown for medical and industrial use.
In addition, the government's plans include changing the Criminal Records Act to allow convictions related to the possession of small amounts of marijuana to be wiped from criminal records.
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Jamaica announced plans to decriminalize marijuana earlier this year, a move that has been strongly supported by members of the country's Rastafarian community, which considers smoking marijuana part of their religious practice.
The current step towards decriminalization is in line with a regional trend that has seen Uruguay become the first nation to legalize the production, sale, and consumption of marijuana and Colombia, Ecuador, Argentina and Costa Rica decriminalize the possession of small amounts of the drug.
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Jamaica is still a long way from legalizing marijuana, however, a process which would be complicated by the country's position as home to large scale marijuana cultivation. Unlike Uruguay, which imports most of its marijuana from neighboring Paraguay, Jamaica is a major producer of the drug and exports to the US and Central American markets.
Golding has made it clear that no changes will be made to laws governing dealing, exporting, and cultivating the drug for recreational purposes for the time being, and for the moment Jamaica seems to be approaching the issue of drug reforms with small, cautious steps rather than wholesale change.