Jamaica Rolls Back Marijuana Restrictions

Before he died, Bob Marley told his son “Money can’t buy life.” Well, in Jamaica, money can now buy you marijuana. Legally. Possessing small amounts of ganja has now been decriminalised on the Caribbean island, government officials are in the process of setting up a licensing agency to oversee the sale of medical marijuana, and the growth of up to five marijuana plants is allowed on any premises.[1] Jamaica is one of the latest countries to adopt a friendlier policy towards the use of marijuana. For example, Uruguay has completely legalised the use of marijuana and other countries like Costa Rica and Argentina have decriminalised the drug, too. Even in United States, which is notoriously strict with drugs and alcohol, states like Colorado and Washington have legalised the personal use of marijuana.

Image courtesy of Peretz Partensky © 2009
Image courtesy of Peretz Partensky © 2009

It is a common misunderstanding that weed has always been legal in Jamaica, home of the Rastafari movement and of course Bob Marley. In reality, the Jamaican government signed on to a number of treaties that are rather unfriendly towards the drug. The United States and Jamaica are part of the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative. It focuses on reducing the illegal sale of drugs, to improve security and safety in the region, and to promote justice. [2] The United States has contributed $263 million to this scheme since 2010 and through it offers Jamaica training, equipment, technical assistance in modernising customs procedures and tax administration, and more.[3] The United States’ presence in the Caribbean started blazing during the Cold War, in an effort to prevent the spread of communism. This presence continues today in an effort to ensure the American government’s interests are protected.

It is widely known that American President Obama smoked marijuana in his youth, but even he has not legalised the drug at the federal level. Loretta Lynch, the newly approved Attorney General of the US, has conveyed her strong stance against the legalisation of marijuana and that she will oppose legalization of the drug.[4] The US government clearly will not be legalising anything in the near future, but Jamaica has. What does this mean for the relationship between the two nations?

Jamaica has adopted a policy that directly opposes U.S. federal drug policy. To put it bluntly, the island country depends on the financial and economic support of America. Some may worry about how this legislation will affect the way the United States interacts with Jamaica. For example, decriminalisation will inevitably lead to an increase in the export of marijuana to the United States. While a majority of American citizens would support the legalisation of weed and support Jamaica’s stance on the issue, the national government still resists.

This questioning says something about the United States’ influence in the rest of the world, too. The United States appears to use its economic and military capabilities to influence other smaller and weaker countries’ policy decisions. Jamaica has a history of debt and a number of loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The IMF lends money to struggling countries to promote financial stability, international trade, and economic growth worldwide. Obviously, Jamaica is not the wealthiest of nations. The decriminalisation of marijuana is a step to rectify that situation. Tourism and the healthcare industry will no doubt expand because of this new law. People will flock to the beautiful island to lie out and light up. The healthcare industry will also feel the benefits of this legislation. Of course the allowance of medicinal marijuana will contribute, but also new treatments and products with marijuana will be part of the conversation. Even more, the possibilities of increased tax revenue through legal marijuana could significantly help in decreasing Jamaica’s debts.

With all these benefits one would think Jamaica would be content with their new laws and maybe would have gone this way sooner. However, Peter Bunting, the island nation’s National Security Minister, said despite the decriminalisation the government had no intention of lessening its hard stance on transnational drug trafficking.[5]

According to the White House, “the Administration steadfastly opposes legalization of marijuana and other drugs because legalization would increase the availability and use of illicit drugs, and pose significant health and safety risks to all Americans, particularly young people.”[6] Because the United States’ central government has taken such a strong stance against weed, they are in essence pressuring their allies or countries that depend on them to do the same. America has long used their military capabilities and units, like the Coast Guard, as an incentive for Caribbean countries to take a similar outlook. For example, many boats in the Caribbean display signs with strong warnings against the use of drugs. In an attempt not to upset such a huge economic trade partner and any other arrangements in place, Jamaica has seemed to side more with the US. Now, things have changed. Jamaica is now acting like the American states that have also gone against the anti-marijuana federal government. It also seems the US no longer has the ability to prevent actions by foreign governments like it used to be able to.

It will be interesting to see how the American government reacts in the near future. Currently, they are just reiterating how they feel about marijuana and its legalisation. Only time will tell if trade or the relationship is affected, or if the anti-weed mania will blow over.

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/25/jamaica-decriminalises-marijuana

[2] http://www.state.gov/p/wha/rt/cbsi/

[3] http://www.state.gov/p/wha/rls/fs/2013/218474.htm

[4] http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/feb/1/loretta-lynchs-stance-on-pot-may-be-problematic-fo/?page=all

[5] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/25/jamaica-decriminalises-marijuana

[6] http://www.whitehouse.gov/ondcp/marijuana

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