May 23, 2001

Jamaica looks at crime of marijuana use

                 KINGSTON, Jamaica (Reuters) -- The movement to legalize Jamaica's
                 favorite herb may be hitting a new high.

                 A majority of people who have appeared before a Jamaican national commission
                 on marijuana favor decriminalizing the potent plant known locally as ganja, a
                 commission official said in an interim report to Prime Minister P.J. Patterson.

                 Although officially outlawed on the Caribbean island of 2.6 million people,
                 marijuana is used often and in public. Reggae icon Bob Marley legitimized it in
                 the 1970s and followers of Rastafari, the religious sect that sees the late
                 Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie as a god, consider it a sacrament.

                 Barry Chevannes, a University of the West Indies professor who chaired
                 commission meetings in 11 communities, said an overwhelming majority of the
                 153 people who had testified want marijuana decriminalized.

                 "Although there were some who wanted to maintain the status quo regarding the
                 criminal status of ganja in Jamaica, it may be deduced so far that most persons
                 and organizations would support the decriminalization of the use of ganja for
                 private purposes and in private spaces," Chevannes said.

                 Among those who had testified before the commission were representatives of
                 the Medical Association of Jamaica, the Scientific Research Council, the
                 Jamaica Manufacturers Association, the Rastafarian Centralization Organization
                 and the National Democratic Movement, Jamaica's third political party.

                   Copyright 2001 Reuters.