Jamaica ganja decision could impact Cayman

Police chief recommends softer approach, but not decriminalization

Jamaica’s decision to decriminalize cannabis could have negative consequences for Cayman and other Caribbean islands where the drug is still illegal, Police Commissioner David Baines has warned. 

Mr. Baines believes the Cayman Islands should consider treating low-level cannabis possession offences with a police caution rather than a criminal charge. 

But he said he did not support full decriminalization and warned that Jamaica’s decision would have a knock-on effect throughout the Caribbean. 

The Jamaican Cabinet, in January, approved a bill that would legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, and set a legal framework for the cultivation, sale, and distribution of the drug for medical and therapeutic purposes. 

Mr. Baines fears that could mean a relaxation of enforcement on Jamaica’s borders when it comes to the import and export of the drug.  

“Jamaica is awash with ganja,” he said. “They are the biggest exporter, so guess what? They have decriminalized it. 

“What is that going to mean in terms of border security issues? Does it mean they are going to cut down on border security, so it is our problem?” 

He said there was a clear risk that responsibility for enforcement would be transferred to places like Cayman and the rest of the Caribbean, where possessing, consuming and selling marijuana remains illegal. 

Citing similar issues in the U.S. where states bordering Washington and Colorado are facing issues with cannabis bought legally in those states coming across the border, he said Cayman Islands law enforcement officials would need to keep an eye on what was happening in Jamaica. 

He said he did not support Cayman following the example set by Jamaica, though he did suggest that small possession offenses could, in some circumstances, be treated with a caution. 

“I think there is an issue at first offense that junior individuals with low levels of simple possession they get a warning or caution so they are not criminalized. Once they have had three chances, that should be it, gone, but there is no need to criminalize them at that early stage …. 

“I have not asked for nor suggested that drug possession be decriminalized. I have said that officers should have other options to use their discretion, rather than just progressing for prosecution. 

“This would include the ability to formally caution or warn an offender for simple possession, therefore negating the need for the individual to have a criminal record, let alone clog up the court and prison system.” 

Such a move would require amendments to the Criminal Code to allow officers a formal process to seize and dispose of the drug without bringing criminal charges.  

Michael Myles, the government’s at-risk youth officer, agreed it was important to keep young people out of the criminal justice system if possible. “However, we must be cautioned that many of our young people are becoming addicted to the drug,” he said. 

Mr. Myles believes widespread use of cannabis among Cayman’s youth is a symptom of a wider problem. 

“The use of ganja is not the problem I am concerned most about. Ganja is normally used to mask the root cause of many issues our youngsters are faced with. For example, there are many children struggling with mental health issues, abuse and neglect, lack of parenting, and poverty.  

“Many of our children are using ganja as an escape to mask these issues. If we don’t address these issues, simply decriminalizing ganja will not have an impact. It will contribute to a larger social issue.” 

Commissioner Baines said results from countries like Portugal, which has begun treating drug use as a health issue rather than a law enforcement issue, were mixed.  

He added, “My wish would be that law enforcement outcomes should include caution and warnings and softer options than merely criminal conviction and affecting young people’s futures for a judgement call that is questionable.  

“From U.S. presidents down to our current generation of young people, ganja is as available as alcohol and cigarettes, perhaps we should treat it in a similar way to those two unhealthy yet tolerated and legal vices.” 

Premier Alden McLaughlin did not respond to requests for comment on the issue. 

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Mr. Baines
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  1. This is a topic where we will find most people eager to read about just for mere curiosity, nodding their heads side ways or up and down, but not commenting to express their thoughts. I support the Commissioner’s fair decision on this; and will further say that Weed smoking in Cayman is just like playing the lottery and drinking beer. They will never go away.
    If you talk and observe weed smokers, they behave very differently from those who drink rum or even beer. People who drink rum become aggressive and want to fight, abusive and drive fast and careless on the roads. The difference with a weed smoker he is very calm, exchange conversation with you as if he is in a spiritual realm. Then ask you if you have any rice and beans or cassava cake.
    Many people use weed and make tea, which they swear by makes them free from pains, and hypertension in many illness.
    I do believe that persons who have experienced getting drunk from rum and have also experienced weed smoking would be in a better position to say the results obtained.
    If you have only experienced what rum drinking can do, you will have to either experience for yourself or talk to and observe people who smoke weed to know the difference. I am in no way supporting anything that would be against our laws or our health. However, we will need to work with facts also; instead of turning a blind eye to one thing and open arms to another.

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  2. You’re opening an ugly can of worms, and you’re not equipped to deal with the long term effects of the drug. Cayman has a bad enough vehicle accident and death rate. We don’t have enough problems with vice and crime. Think again Commissioner
    Baines. Addiction is a real consequence, as is jumping to another drug, when this buzz isn’t enough.

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  3. I have to say the I agree with the way he’s handling this. legalizing it will not make more people smoke weed it’s no different then liquor except that it doesn’t make people violent, drunk people drive fast and crazy people that smoked weed drive slow as hell.

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  4. A lot of people seem to be confusing decriminalizing with legalizing, they are not the same thing.
    Decriminalizing weed for small amounts means if you are caught with a spliff, you get a fine and not a police record, that is all. If you are caught with more than that, criminal sanctions apply as does a criminal record if you are found guilty.
    BIG DIFFERENCE.
    Lukishi’s comment makes no sense, its already going on in Cayman, and has been for decades, that’s the whole point behind Baines comments and suggestion.
    And lastly, just because it is decriminalized, does not mean that every person will go and start smoking weed. Alcohol is legal, does everyone drink? Is everyone who drinks an alcoholic?

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  5. I know quite a few people who have been caught with less than a gram of weed and now have lifetime criminal records. This is a bit ridiculous if you ask me. The benefits of medical marijuana far outweigh the benefits of the pills and treatments that are legal and is something that should be highly considered for any country. I agree with the commissioner when he says that a small amount should be cautioned and not criminalized as it is going on anyway and is going to continue whatever steps are taken. I feel far more families have been broken by the consequences of a criminal conviction from marijuana than the actual use of it. People are ignorant to a lot of facts about marijuana and should do some serious research before they say things that are completely un-educated. I know so many people who would rather have a spliff than a drink because of the negative side effects of alcohol. Where in any statistics can you find someone who has died from consuming marijuana? But every day we bury someone who has died due to consumption of alcohol and cigarettes. As Willie Nelson said The only danger in weed is if a bale of it drops on your head. Just my two cents on the subject.

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