The Dangerous Drugs Act Amendment in Jamaica: Reviewing goals, implementation, and challenges

Steven Davenport, Bryce Pardo
International Journal on Drug Policy 2016, 37: 60-69

BACKGROUND: After decades of internal discussion, the Government of Jamaica recently amended its laws to create a regulated and licensed cannabis industry for medical and scientific purposes. The new law also decriminalizes personal possession and use of cannabis; allows cannabis to be used by individuals for religious, medical, scientific and therapeutic purposes; and permits home cultivation of up to five plants.

METHODS: We first describe the statutory changes under the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act of 2015 and compare it with other jurisdictions. We provide an analytical framework for understanding how the DDA Amendment affects key populations and achieves its stated goals, drawing on publicly available information and unstructured interviews with non-governmental stakeholders in Jamaica.

RESULTS: The Amendment's primary goals are to deliver economic impact and reduce criminal justice costs. A relaxed policy of enforcement toward possession and use seems to have occurred even before the law's passage; after the law's passage, enforcement remains limited. To access medical cannabis under the DDA residents must receive authorization from a certified health professional in Jamaica; tourists may self-declare their medical need; and Rastafarians may grow and exchange non-commercially for religious purposes.

CONCLUSION: Internally, many see "ganja" as an industry sorely needed to drive economic growth in Jamaica. Indeed, the potential impacts could be large, especially if Jamaica draws additional tourism or creates a viable export industry. A growing cannabis-related tourism industry seems more realistic. We maintain that policymakers and observers should proceed in an orderly fashion, continuing to identify and resolve remaining uncertainties, initiate new types of data collection, and make decisions based on realistic assessments of potentials for economic impact.

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