By Horace Helps
KINGSTON (Reuters) - The Jamaican government has decided to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, joining the trickle of countries moving to soften laws on the drug known on the Caribbean island as "ganja."
Minister of Justice Mark Golding made the announcement at an afternoon news conference on Thursday saying that Jamaica's Dangerous Drugs Act would be formally amended this summer.
The cabinet of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller made the decision on June 2, he said.
"Cabinet approved certain changes to the law relating to ganja. These relate to possession of small quantities of ganja for personal use, the smoking of ganja in private places and the use of ganja for medical-medicinal purposes," he said.
"Approval has been given also to a proposal for the decriminalization of the use of ganja for religious purposes," he said.
Uruguay recently became the latest country to legalize marijuana use, joining several countries in Europe as well as the U.S. states of Colorado and Washington.
Possession of small quantities of the drug would become a non-arrestable, ticketable infraction in Jamaica resulting in a fine, Golding said.
"Too many of our young people have ended up with criminal convictions after being caught with a 'spliff,' something that has affected their ability to do things like get jobs and get visas to travel overseas," Golding said.
He added that the government would propose a bill in the Jamaican Parliament soon that will expunge the criminal records of people convicted for possession of small amounts of the drug, which is grown widely across Jamaica.
The change means that a person cannot be arrested if he has in his possession up to 57 grams (2 ounces) of ganja in a public space.
Anyone ticketed will be given 30 days to pay the fine, failure of which will result in it becoming a minor offense, resulting in the offender doing court-ordered community service.
According to Golding, possession of ganja for religious or therapeutic purposes as prescribed by a registered medical practitioner, or for scientific research by an accredited institution, will also be decriminalized.
(Editing by David Adams and Sandra Maler)