Jamaica: Ministry of Justice Says No To Unregulated Cannabis Edibles At Public or Religious Events

Authored By: Barry Gainsburg

Securities & Cannabis Attorney

However, taken in context of the current Jamaican legislation and regulatory scheme surrounding ganja, I believe the MOJ’s position is soundly reasoned.

I. Dangerous Drugs (Amendment Act) of 2015 (“DDA”)

The DDA was a ground breaking piece of legislation by the Government of Jamaica (“GOJ”). This initiative led by then PNP controlled administration provided three very noteworthy changes to the previous criminal ganja regime.

A. Provision for the legal cultivation, sale and use of ganja for medicinal purposes. Medicinal use of Ganja is to be overseen and regulated by the Cannabis Licensing Authority (“CLA”) pursuant to its promulgation of rules which covers the scope of licensure, education, rule making and enforcement. It is important to keep in mind that the CLA regulatory scheme provides for use of the plant itself, as well as derivatives such as oils, tinctures and edibles. Although the Interim Regulations were released by the CLA in the spring of 2016, Final Regulations have not been approved or released as of date;

B. Provision for the decriminalization of possession of less than two ounces of Ganja. In other words, if one is caught with less than two ounces of ganja in Jamaica it will subject them to a J$500 (approx US$4.70) ticketed fine, like a driving violation, without subjecting the accused to a criminal penalty. This is enforced by the police force, not the CLA; and

C. Provision for the Rastafarian Community to legally smoke ganja for sacramental purposes. Again, this is enforced by the Police Force and MOJ, not the CLA.

For purposes of our discussion, it is the Sacramental Use of Ganja by the Rastafari Community which needs to be focused upon.

II. Sacramental Use of Ganja by the Rastafarian Community.

Ganja is deemed to be sacred by the Rastafarian religious community. As Christians use wafer (transubstantiation), Rastafarians use ganja as sacrament.  Rastafarians often refer to ganja as “Wisdom Weed” or “Holy Herb” or the ‘Healing Herb’ of the Nations. They believe that the Tree of Life mentioned in the Bible is the cannabis plant and that several other biblical passages further promote its use.

Many Rastafarians actually condemn the use of ganja simply to get high. Instead, it is usually used within religious ceremonies in a highly ritualized manner in order to enhance feelings of unity and help generate visions of a spiritual and soothing nature. “Reasoning sessions” are spiritual meetings that involve group meditation, and ganja is used to help the follower go into a trance-like state. Pure Ganja (no tobacco or as locals call it “grabba”) is usually smoked in a pipe (or “chalice”) or even through a spliff. I have never heard of, nor personally witnessed, any sacramental Rastafari Community use of ganja involving the use of edibles. There is no mass eating of brownies, cupcakes, ice cream, popcorn or other food items at such events. Simply, this is a ritual involving the inhaling of the wisdom weed. The ingestion of dessert edibles is not a historical part of the religious group’s culture.

The Ganja induced Reasoning Sessions are very important spirtual rituals for the sect. It’s a time for them to come together to debate living according to the Rastafari livity. The effects of smoking ganja allow the user to reach a sort of “cosmic consciousness,” a state where they become closer to “Jah” (God) and can see the truth of the world more clearly. This is not a ritual for simply getting “high”.

III – Ganja Exempt Status

Through the MOJ, entertainment events may apply and receive ganja exempt status by the Jamaica Government, meaning ganja can be freely used throughout the events’ duration based on some rational relationship based on the request. Most of these events are sponsored in tandem with a Rastafarian Community and involve reggae music performances.

The DDA provides that persons who are adherents of the Rastafarian faith, or Rastafarian organizations, may apply for an event promoted or sponsored by them to be declared an exempt event. In order to apply, the event must be primarily for the purpose of the celebration or observance of the Rastafarian faith.

Where an event is declared exempt, persons who attend the event will not be liable to be arrested, detained or prosecuted for smoking ganja or possession of ganja at the event, or transporting ganja to the event, as long as they have complied with the amounts and conditions specified in the order declaring it an exempt event. So the underlined language is actually the statutory basis provided for the granting of exempt status and notice that as it stands today it only speaks to smoking ganja. There is no statutory basis or expressed intent to allow for edibles contained therein.

So for example, the 2015 High Times Cup Event presented in conjunction with Rastafari Rootzfest, a Rastafari Community Group. Without such a relationship established by High Times with the Rasta community, High Times could not have held such an event on its own. After some problematic developments, High Times was not involved with the 2016 Rastafari Rootzfest held in Negril.

Having been personally involved, I can state that Rastafari Rootzfest takes great pains to promote Rasta Livity in all of its forms – with the inclusion of a Rasta Village, Rasta Crafts and vendors, Rasta Education and Rasta Elders. So the Ganja Exemption is granted based on the promotion of the Rasta Culture which certainly includes the smoking of the Wisdom Weed. The Rasta Ganja Exemption is not intended to be granted as a means to allow all uses of ganja ingestion. It is the apparent misuse and potential for abuse of the exemption that gives rise to legitimate governmental concerns, not withstanding any of the public health and safety issues, that may be the result of either actual or contrived allegations, or perhaps even spoiled ganja edible product.

IV – Parting Thoughts.

The ban on the sale or sampling of all ganja edibles at entertainment events is not a death knell for the ganja edible industry in Jamaica. Such processing and distribution is clearly permitted by the CLA’s licensure and regulatory scheme for medicinal use.

However, it is hard to justify the nexus of permitting the sale and sampling of ganja edibles by the MOJ at exempted events based solely on a Rastafari Community request. Eventually, there may be trade shows that ask for exemptions for edibles sale and sampling based on medicinal demonstrations. And then there may be a future revision of the DDA to provide for ganja edible use based on the Rasta Exemption after legislative reconsideration.

But regardless of how this may eventually come about, even in an an adult use setting, any sale or sampling of ganja edibles must be accompanied with relevant disclosures of content – including ingredients, percentages of THC, CBD, etc, as well as be tested for contaminants. Additionally, recommended dosages, like Colorado’s 10 mg pieces, and perhaps a dosage cap need to be adopted and implemented. This will help guard against public safety concerns since many of the ganja edibles that were previously available at the entertainment events lacked these type of safeguards.

Please feel free to reach out to me at Gainsburg@bellsouth.net or visit my website at www.barrygainsburg.com if you have any other legal issues involving the cannabis industry.

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