Decrim Around the World

This week, President Bush nominates the first woman to head the DEA; the Maryland Senate, against the wishes of the Drug Czar, votes to reduce medical marijuana use to a fine of $100; the Belgian government legalizes personal possession of marijuana; and the Jamaican Attorney General predicts marijuana decriminalization soon.

March 22 -- The Washington Times reports: President Bush yesterday announced his intention to nominate Karen P. Tandy, head of the Justice Department's Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, as the new chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

If confirmed by the Senate, she would be the first woman ever to head the anti-drug agency. A veteran prosecutor, she would replace acting administrator John B. Brown III, a longtime drug agent who was named in January to succeed former Rep. Asa Hutchinson. The Arkansas Republican had left the agency to become undersecretary for border and transportation security at the new Department of Homeland Security.

March 27 -- The Baltimore Sun reports: After a gripping debate in which senators described watching friends and family members die in pain, the Maryland Senate voted yesterday to reduce punishment for the very ill who use marijuana as medicine.

The House of Delegates approved an identical bill two weeks ago, meaning the matter appears headed for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s desk .

Ehrlich said yesterday that he is leaning toward signing the bill, which would make Maryland the ninth state to offer some form of legal shelter to medical marijuana patients.

The 29-17 vote yesterday followed an intense discussion between those who believe marijuana can be a dying patient's last hope and others who see it as the first step toward legalizing drugs.

Some lawmakers said the debate ranked as one of the greatest in recent Senate history. One by one senators rose from their seats to tell their stories.

"If you haven't been there, you can't say what it is like," said Sen. Nathaniel Exum, a Prince George's County Democrat who lost his 25-year-old daughter to cancer in 1993. "I was there. I saw here moaning and groaning and she said, 'Daddy, can you do something to help me?' I couldn't help her.

"If we could have gotten her marijuana, we would have done that for her."

The legislation would establish a maximum $100 fine for those who can prove to a judge they used marijuana as a medical necessity, such as people with cancer or AIDS in the last stages of life.

Those who cannot prove medical necessity would remain subject to current penalties of up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

A person who claims medical need could also be prosecuted under federal law, which makes no distinction for medicinal use.

March 29 -- The Guardian reports: The Belgian parliament has voted to legalise the personal use of cannabis, within certain guidelines, for anyone over the age of 18.

The move, which has been the subject of fierce debate in Belgium for the last two years, will allow users to smoke small quantities of the drug in private, provided they do not disturb public order.

Its sale will, however, remain illegal and Belgium will not tolerate Dutch-style coffee shops selling cannabis over the counter. Hard drugs will continue to be outlawed.

The possession of up to 5g of cannabis for personal use will no longer be punishable and police officers who find such quantities in routine searches will take no action.

March 30 -- The Jamaica Observer reports: Attorney General A J Nicholson said yesterday that legislation is now being prepared to give effect to the recommendation of a commission, which sat two years ago, for the decriminalisation of marijuana when in private use here.

Nicholson did not say when a Bill will reach Parliament and neither did he give details of the drafting instructions, but stressed that decriminalising marijuana - -- called ganja here - -- will be within a limited scope.

"Yes, it will, for private use only," he told the Sunday Observer yesterday.

Marijuana is widely used in Jamaica, and is said by Rastafarians to be holy sacrament. But the use of the drug is illegal, for which a person can be fined and/or jailed.

Additionally, the island is one of the hemisphere's leading exporters of marijuana to the United States, and the Americans have promoted eradication and interdiction efforts in the island.

Nearly two years ago, a National Ganja Commission, appointed by Prime Minister P J Patterson, recommended the decriminalisation of the drug, which has deep cultural roots here.

Please send tips and comments to Kevin Nelson.

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