Jamaica may lighten up on pot use William E. Gibson | Washington Bureau Posted August 28, 2001 WASHINGTON -- Jamaica, long known for producing some of the world's most potent marijuana, is considering allowing adults to use the drug for private purposes, Prime Minister Percival James Patterson confirmed Monday. Jamaica's potential shift in drug strategy follows the path of other nations, including Canada, which have slackened enforcement of marijuana laws or reduced penalties. Jamaica's move would be especially significant because of its proximity to the United States, bountiful tourism and record as the leading producer of marijuana in the Caribbean. A panel set up to study the issue recommended this month decriminalizing the drug known by Jamaicans as ganja -- a recommendation that Patterson called "persuasive." "We are not considering legalizing it in the sense of making it legal for people to grow, to sell, to export," Patterson said while visiting his nation's embassy in Washington. "It is for private use, and of course it will have to be confined to adults." "Certainly nobody should be coming to Jamaica with the belief that, as a result of the amendments we would be making, it would be possible for them to be, you know, indulging in smoking in public places or taking back with them any of the stuff that they had failed to consume in Jamaica." U.S. officials have strongly discouraged legalization movements at home and abroad for fear they would lead to wider drug use. A State Department official who insisted on anonymity said Monday that Jamaica's move toward decriminalization would violate a United Nations accord of 1988 designed to prevent the spread of illegal drugs. While anti-drug crusaders warn that marijuana is a "gateway" to other illegal drugs, legalization proponents contend that law-enforcement resources should focus on more significant crime problems. Some other nations, particularly in Europe, are softening their marijuana laws. Canada allows severely ill patients with a doctor's approval to apply to grow and use marijuana. Portugal, Belgium and Switzerland have removed or reduced criminal penalties for drug use, and enforcement has been reduced in many other nations. Mexican President Vicente Fox has suggested that drugs should eventually be legalized. In Jamaica, ganja has long been a cultural symbol associated with some African-inspired religious beliefs. Widespread use of the drug has made enforcement more difficult, adding to pressures to legalize it. Patterson said the Jamaican Parliament will consider the matter at its autumn session William E. Gibson is a Washington reporter for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.