KINGSTON (AFP) - Jamaica, long associated with a vibrant pot-smoking culture, on Tuesday passed a law decriminalising possession of small amounts of the leaf it calls ganja.
Minister of National Security Peter Bunting said the change came after an "elephantine" slog through Parliament that took decades. "To describe this Bill's development as elephantine, is to label it in euphemistic terms since the Parliamentary deliberations on it commenced as far back as 38 years ago," he said in a statement.
He added: "It eliminates an unnecessary source of friction between police and citizens, and ensures that our young people are not gratuitously shackled with criminal records."
The new law makes possession of small quantities of pot a non-arrestable offense that can instead result in a fine. It will also permit the use of marijuana for religious, medical, scientific, and therapeutic purposes.
Finally, it will provide for regulation through the granting of licenses to permit the development of a lawful industry for medical ganja and industrial hemp, the minister's statement said.
"It is significant because it begins to correct decades of criminalizing tens of thousands of Jamaicans, mostly poor young black males, for possession of a little 'spliff'," Mr Bunting said.
"This progressive legislation also begins to correct the victimization of our Rastafarian brethren which started in colonial times and continued after Independence," he added.
"Ganja law gets green light," the Jamaican Observer said in its online version.
Rastafarianism, the religion followed by late Jamaican reggae star Bob Marley, includes the ritualistic use of marijuana.