Following months of speculation, Jamaica's Justice Minister Mark Golding announced that Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and her cabinet have approved changes to the Dangerous Drugs Act, decriminalizing "small quantities of ganja for personal use" on June 15.

Under the amended law, possession of up to 57 grams (two ounces) would become an infraction, resulting only in a fine. Failure to pay the fine within 30 days would be a minor offense, punishable by a court order of community service. "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 in his statement.

Hearteningly, the law would be retroative, with a measure to expunge the criminal records of those convicted of personal possession. Another proposed measure would decriminalize ganja possession for religious or therapeutic purposes -- leaving unclear what the permissible quantity would be in such cases. The cabinet is expected to submit the proposed changes to parliament in the coming weeks.

The statement emphasized: "The changes to the law contemplated are not novel. The decriminalization of ganja in Jamaica has been the subject of considerable study and recommendations over the years."

A 1977 Joint Select Committee of Parliament reviewed ganja legalization, ultimately recommending that the government consider decriminalization, with full legalization of medical marijuana with a doctor's prescription. In 2001, the National Commission on Ganja, or Chevannes Commission, issued similar findings -- and also called for the establishment of a Cannabis Research Agency. The Chevannes Report was endorsed by a 2003 Joint Select Committee of Parliament, but the proposed changes were never enacted into law. The Golding statement also invoked as positive examples the decrim and legalization policies in place in Australia, Argentina, The Netherlands, Portugal, India, Ecuador, Uruguay, and the US states of Colorado and Washington.