Special to the AmNews

Jamaica appears not to be waiting for fellow Caribbean trade bloc governments to decriminalize medicinal marijuana and cease filling up jails with people found with small quantities for personal and religious uses.

The island’s Senate voted to approve the Dangerous Drugs Amendment Bill, which makes possession of two ounces of weed a non-arrestable but ticketable offense that would not be part of the official record.

Last year, the cabinet approved the measures and took the issue to the two-chamber parliament for debate amid indications that a majority of the population supports decriminalizing marijuana, given the fact that the island of nearly 3 million people could begin exporting to destinations where medical marijuana is legal. And if there were any doubts about who supports the bill, Senate President Floyd Morris was among the loudest, saying there is medical proof that weed used in medically advised amounts helps people like himself with a history of glaucoma in their families DNA.

“I’m certain that thousands of glaucoma patients on the island would welcome the passage of such a bill,” Morris said, noting the growth of the medical industry in the U.S., which is believed to be worth approximately $2.5 billion already.

Additionally, the Tourism Ministry has said that the new approach would be good for the lifeline tourism industry, given the number of European and American visitors who flock to the island each year and indulge openly while law enforcement officers look the other way.

“I think from a tourism perspective, it would be good. The issue that we have is that we have to be careful how we do it,” he told the local Observer newspaper.

The island already has a reputation for growing the best and most potent varieties in the world and wants to cash in on this growing sector while colleagues in the Caribbean dither. Caribbean leaders debated the issue at their two most recent summits in the past year and are set to do the same in the Bahamas toward the end of this month. A preliminary report has already been presented to them while a fuller and more comprehensive study is being prepared. Most have, however, indicted a more progressive and tolerant attitude to possession and use of small amounts, even as criminal courts complain of laws that force them to jail offenders for what they consider to be misdemeanor offenses.

The elected Jamaican House of Representatives is scheduled to look at the issue in the coming months before any changes become law, but police have already taken their cue with people who stick to the confines recommended by the Senate. Meanwhile, Justice Minister Mark Golding says that a cannabis licensing authority will be established to regulate the hemp and medical marijuana sectors on the island.

“The licensing authority will, with the approval of the minister responsible for justice, make regulations treating with, among other things, procedures and criteria for applying for and retention of licenses, permits and other authorizations for cultivation, processing, distribution, sale and other handling of ganja for medicinal, scientific and therapeutic purposes,” said Golding.