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Jamaica Reconsiders Its Strict Opposition to Marijuana

Long associated with illegal marijuana trade, Jamaica is making efforts to cash in on the budding legal industry, hoping that doing so will help lift up an otherwise struggling economy.

Despite Jamaica’s reputation, marijuana has been illegal there for more than a century, with even small possession offenders susceptible to a criminal record, large fines and jail time. Last year, however, the country’s policy on cannabis began to shift, as it legalized medical marijuana and decriminalized the personal possession of up to two ounces. Recognizing the marijuana industry’s economic potential, Jamaica is now setting its sights on “wellness tourism” and is preparing to play a significant role in the international cannabis market, the New York Times reports.

Recently, government and local leaders and marijuana farmers gathered for the first CanEx Jamaica Conference in Montego Bay to explore how Jamaica could take advantage of the budding international cannabis industry and yet continue to follow international law. The United Nations convention on drugs requires its nations to limit the use, production and trade of illegal drugs, which as of now includes marijuana.

“Jamaica for so long has been associated with this plant,” said the conference organizer, Doug Gordon. “Now, it’s a business, an opportunity, one that can change the future of this country through jobs and income, one that can change our G.D.P.”

With the loosening of the laws last year, possession up to 2 ounces of marijuana is a petty offense that results in a roughly $5 ticket. The cultivation of up to five plants in a household is allowed. Foreigners prescribed medical marijuana can acquire a permit that allows them to legally purchase up to 2 ounces of marijuana while in the country. The new law also legalizes the medical, scientific, and religious uses of cannabis. Today, Rastafari adults can legally use marijuana for sacramental purposes.

Jamaica has struggled with low growth and high public debt in a weakened economy for decades. With the changing cannabis laws in the United States and states like Colorado, Oregon and California generating billions in marijuana sales, Jamaican authorities have been encouraged to get in on the promising industry to improve the economic health of their country.

Recreational and Medical Marijuana

“In the past, the United States really left no room for maneuver,” Mark Golding, former minister of justice who developed Jamaica’s medical marijuana legislation, told the New York Times. “But with the Obama administration creating an opportunity for states to do what they wanted to, it created a window for all of us.”

As of now, Jamaica is a long way off from establishing itself as a booming legal marijuana market like the United States. The country has established a Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA) to regulate the cultivation and distribution of legal marijuana for medical, therapeutic and scientific purposes. However, according to a CLA public advisory, as of August 6, the authority hadn’t granted any licenses, permits or approvals to individuals, companies or cooperatives, and had granted only a few licenses for cultivating marijuana for research purposes. No one in Jamaica has sold any cannabis legally yet.

“Where the real market is, and where the real money is, remains to be seen,” added Golding. “We are all just preparing for it.”

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