TIME Jamaica

Jamaica Decriminalizes Marijuana and Moves Toward Cultivation

Jamaican ganja farmer checks his marijuana plants
John Greim—LightRocket/Getty Images Jamaican ganja farmer checks his marijuana plants

New law decriminalizes possession of small amounts

A law passed in Jamaica on Tuesday decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, while also laying the groundwork for regulating the drug’s cultivation and medical usage.

The new law states that possession of up to 2 oz. of pot or weed, as it is otherwise known, will be considered a petty offense without going on a person’s criminal record, the Associated Press reported.

It also legalizes the cultivation of up to five marijuana plants on any premises and the use of the drug for religious purposes. Furthermore, tourists prescribed medical marijuana abroad can apply for a permit to buy it locally.

The amendment in Jamaica, where weed has long been a part of daily life but remained illegal, comes soon after Alaska became the third U.S. state to legalize recreational marijuana.

However, both American and Jamaican authorities insisted that this does not change the strict rules and guidelines around cross-border drug trafficking and illegal cultivation.

TIME Jamaica

Jamaica to Decriminalize Weed

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Sam Diephuis—Getty Images

Smoking ganja could be a minor infraction in the ganja-growing nation by the end of the summer

Possession of marijuana is soon to be decriminalized in Jamaica, where the plant has remained banned despite being grown widely across the island.

“Cabinet approved certain changes to the law relating to ganja,” Minister of Justice Mark Golding said in a news conference Thursday. “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.”

Under the amended law, set to be formally changed this summer, possession of pot will be punishable by a small fine. Failure to pay will result in 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. Criminal records for people convicted of possessing small amounts of marijuana will be expunged, Reuters reports.

Jamaica joins the list of countries, including, in varying degrees, Uruguay, Portugal, and parts of the United States, where drug laws are being softened as policymakers move away from the harsh punishments of the past that many feel have failed to stem pot use.

[Reuters]

TIME photo essay

Unstoppable: Meet the Dancehall Queens of Brooklyn

Dancehall is a style of music and dance born in Jamaica in the 1970s, and Brooklyn, New York, with its large Caribbean community, is home to a thriving Dancehall scene.

At around 1 am on a late-winter night in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, a small line of young men and women forms outside Sugar Mills nightclub. Attendees are searched by a team of bouncers before entering. Inside, dancers watch each other from the edges of the floor. As girls run circles around each other, the quickening beat of the music creates the sensation of a gradually building fever. One dancer, Sarah, moves her head in a serpentine rhythm, a wig framing her striking features. As she dances, she spins and floats in a maelstrom of implausible flexibility. For Sarah, and the other members of a Brooklyn-based Dancehall team called Zero Nation, these weekly parties at Sugar Mills are a keystone of their community.

Dancehall is a style of music and dance born in Jamaica in the 1970s. It fuses reggae-style rhythms with electronic instrumentals and DJs who freestyle over the music — in Dancehall, the term DJ is used instead of the more widely known MC, used in hip hop. While often criticized for its themes of violence, extreme sexuality and homophobia, for many fans the subculture is an expression of the realities of life in its birthplace of Kingston, Jamaica. Brooklyn, with its large Caribbean community, is home to a thriving Dancehall scene.

Sarah Crosse goes by the name “Cookie,” and like other Zero Nation members she often struggles to make ends meet. Many work at low-wage jobs while going to school and trying to build their futures. But while they are dancing, their troubles fade. Sarah has taken ballet, jazz, tap and hip-hop dance classes at a dance school in Canarsie, Brooklyn, since she was 5. Her formal dance background has built up her reputation in the Dancehall scene. She credits dance with helping her to cope with some of the most difficult moments in her life.

August 8, 2013. A photograph of Sarah in her ballet costume around age 5 is tucked into the mirror in her bedroom.

When one of her best friends was shot and killed in September 2010, Sarah fell into a depression and dropped out of school. But with the support of her family and dance teachers, she began to go to her dance classes again, and to use movement as an outlet as she processed the loss. She joined Zero Nation two years ago. The group became a family to her, and a social space that exists outside of the gang culture entrenched in her neighborhood. However, in Brooklyn’s 67th Precinct, where someone was murdered roughly once a month in 2013 and 10 out of 12 of these crimes remains unsolved, the street violence finally caught up with Sarah last fall.

On Oct. 30, 2013, Sarah and a friend, Zero Nation member Cheville — who goes by the name “Velvet” — descended the steps of Sarah’s family’s home in East Flatbush and set off down her block. Sarah only realized she’d been shot when she pulled off her hightop Nike Jordan and saw blood oozing through her sock. A bullet had ricocheted off the sidewalk, as the girls ran for cover from a drive-by, and lodged neatly in the center of the ballerina’s heel. It had to be surgically removed.

In February 2014, Zero Nation congregated in their leader’s bedroom in Brownsville to lay out a new set of rules for the group. They discussed stylistic elements for the group’s choreography, and banned any intoxication during practices and “excessive” intoxication at parties. The group established ground rules for monetizing their dancing. Zero Nation’s name would no longer be used to promote parties unless they were paid.

As the meeting broke up, the dancers ran through their routines. Sarah leaned her walking cane against the wall and joined in. Though she stepped gingerly on her still-recovering foot, her movements were precise and confident. Since the shooting, she has refused to entertain the idea that she would not dance again — although at first the doctors were unsure if she ever would.

“Don’t worry guys,” Sarah posted on her Facebook page a few weeks ago. “I’ll soon pick you back up and start moving you around. I know you miss me and I miss you guys 10,000 percent more. The time will come when I will wear you out until your body starts falling apart. I love you and I promise I will never leave you again.”


Natalie Keyssar is a photographer and a member of Reportage by Getty Images Emerging Talent.


TIME olympics

Listen To The Jamaican Bobsled Team’s Catchy New Theme Song

Tune apparently syncs perfectly with the Olympic bobsled course itself

After a 12-year hiatus, the Jamaican bobsled team has returned to the Winter Olympics, and this time around they’ve got an awesome new theme song. The catchy reggae tune is called, naturally, “The Bobsled Song,” and it was specially designed to sync with Sochi’s bobsled course.

The team will compete today, Sunday Feb. 16, so be sure to hit “play” right as they begin.

Of course, no Jamaican bobsled song could ever top the classic tune from Cool Runnings:

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