“Overwhelming” Volume of Ganja Cases Prompts Shift in Jamaican Courts

By: Caribbean Journal Staff - November 3, 2011

Above: The Port Antonio Resident Magistrate’s Court in Boundbrook

By the Caribbean Journal staff

Certain ganja cases in Jamaica may soon be heard in the Petty Sessions Court, as the government seeks to reduce the backlog of cases in the country’s Resident Magistrate’s Court, according to Justice Minister Delroy Chuck.

Chuck said a submission was made to Cabinet seeking approval to transfer certain ganja-related cases from the Resident Magistrate’s Court to the Petty Sessions Court, and Cabinet has approved the proposal in principle.

“We have looked at the overwhelming volume of ganja-related cases currently before the RM court, and the urgent need to free up the judicial officers and Court staff, so that they can address the more serious and complex matters in their caseload, with a view to reducing the backlog,” he said.

The proposal does not signal that the government is advocating the decriminalisation of the use of ganja, however, as was recommended by the National Commission on Ganja in 2001.

“My government intends to continue to hold steadfast to the hard line it has taken against the use of illegal substances, and the attendant nefarious and criminal activities associated with it, such as drug trafficking,” he said.

Those cases transferred to the Petty Sessions Court involve possession of less than 8 ounces of ganja.

Chuck said the government was also moving ahead with its plan to increase penalties for drug-related offences, and was conducting research jointly with the Commissioner of Police to do an analysis of what obtains in other jurisdictions for similar crimes.

“As soon as that research is completed, I will be making the appropriate submissions to cabinet,” he said.

Jamaica’s Dangerous Drugs Act prohibits the possession and smoking of ganja, and prescribes that every person who has in his possession any ganja shall be guilty of an offense and, if convicted before a Circuit Court, shall be sentenced to a fine or to imprisonment for a term of no more than 5 years, or both.

Upon summary conviction before a Resident Magistrate in Jamaica, offenders are liable to fies not exceeding $1.17 per ounce of ganja, provided the fine does not exceed $175.54.

According to a recent study, the majority of more than 6,000 cases involving the possession of illegal drugs in Jamaica in 2009 were for possession of ganja in quantities of less than one ounce.

At the end of July 2011, more than 1,100 of the 8,700 people appearing before the Resident Magistrate’s Court were on charges of possession of ganja in quantities similar to those in the study.

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