Cannabis decriminalization eases tensions in Jamaica

San Juan, May 11 (EFE).- Jamaica's marijuana decriminalization law has helped decrease tensions between citizens and authorities as people possessing 2 ounces or less of pot no longer face arrest, National Security Minister Peter Bunting said Monday.

For decades, arrests for possession of small quantities of the drug Jamaicans know as ganja has caused friction between police and communities, the minister said in a statement.

"Communities saw young men who they did not regard as criminals being arrested, fined, and, sometimes, sentenced for possession of ganja. It gave them criminal records ... eventually limiting their life chances," he said.

There has been a significant reduction in arrests for marijuana possession since the new law was approved, he said, though without mentioning any figures.

"I believe that the police must use their (resources and energy) going after the real problems in crime", Bunting said.

Possession of 2 ounces or less of marijuana is now treated as an administrative offense subject to a ticket.

The legislation is expected to have "positive implications" for Jamaica, such as "acknowledging the constitutional rights of the Rastafarian community, who use ganja as a sacrament" and reducing "the heavy burden of cases on the Resident Magistrates' Courts," according to the Justice Ministry.

One provision of the bill mandates the creation of a Cannabis Licensing Authority to grant permits for the cultivation, processing, distribution and sale of marijuana for medicinal, scientific and therapeutic purposes.