“We need to stand up for our rights,” renowned attorney-at-law, Lord Anthony Gifford, told a press briefing at the Spanish Court Hotel in New Kingston yesterday.
Gifford said he believed that most Jamaicans would support decriminalisation of the weed, and that a pro-cannabis/ganja conference, planned for late September at the Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown Kingston, would be aimed at starting a process which would lead to the repealing of local laws.
“We need to mobilise opinion, and I think Jamaican opinion is very favourable on the whole issue of the legalisation of ganja, but we need to get up stand up, stand up for our rights,” Gifford said.
He added that the conference will form part of the mobilisation of local opinion, which will involve the local Ganja Law Reform Coalition, headed by Paul Chang, to encourage the Government to act on the issue.
“The Government has shown some sympathy to some decriminalisation measures and expunging from criminal records but, as in all things, things don’t happen until the people move and this conference will be a valuable tool for agitation,” Gifford said yesterday.
The staging of the International Cannabis Conference at the Jamaica Conference Centre, downtown Kingston, September 25-28, will also be supported by the University of the West Indies’ Department of Government, Chang told the press briefing yesterday.
Lord Gifford, who confessed that although he was not a personal user of the weed, but had become interested in its medicinal qualities after a bout with cancer last year, was among several well-known persons attending the briefing. The others included a consistent defender of the right to use the weed over the years, Paul Burke, and former head of Generation 2000, Delano Seiveright.
The event was sponsored by the Open Society Foundation (OSF), founded by international investor and philanthropist George Soros and based in New York City. The foundation says it works on building vibrant and tolerant societies “whose governments are accountable and open to the participation of all people”.
The OSF said that the treatment of cannabis/ganja, since the early-20th century, has been one of international condemnation.
Cannabis lovers worldwide have developed a perception of Jamaican society as ganja-tolerant, and the global media have romanticised the image of the island and its Rastafarian community as widescale users of ganja. However, laws against its usage have persisted, primarily through the influence of the United States, which opposes the legalisation of the weed.
A commission headed by the late UWI professor, Barry Chevannes, reported in 2001 that, after reviewing the most up-to-date body of medical and scientific research, it was of the view that “whatever health hazards the substance poses to the individual, and there is no doubt that ganja can have harmful effects, these do not warrant the criminalisation of thousands of Jamaicans for using it in ways and with beliefs that are deeply rooted in the culture of the people”.
“Besides, there is growing evidence that the substance does have therapeutic properties,” the report added.