Man says 1970 weed conviction ruined his life

November 25, 2020
A chillum pipe.
A chillum pipe.

Fifty years ago, a group of teenagers journeyed to Cane River in St Andrew with about half ounce of ganja to share among them, not knowing this trip would have altered the course of their lives forever.

While lyming on the banks of the river, and smoking the weed from a chillum pipe, the group of six males was pounced upon by police officers. They were subsequently arrested and charged with illegal possession of ganja and chillum pipe.

Everett Comrie, who was 19 at the time, was working as an accounting clerk at the Ministry of Labour. Following his conviction, he was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment. He spent the first month at the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre, before being transferred to Tamarind Farm. He lost his job at the ministry and was lucky to find employment in a steel company before migrating to the US. Comrie, now 69, said that the arrest altered the course of life for some of the people involved.

"We never a do nothing wrong except smoke some weed because we were all decent citizens," he said. "When me get lock up, I was like on top of the world. Me just get a nice government job, me a play Premier League football and me just win cross country a ride bicycle for St James," he told THE STAR.

Hit a roadblock

"Everything nice did a gwane for me, and then boom! It is like me hit a roadblock and it take me like nearly half of my life to recover. Up to now I don't think I fully recover. Prison was totally hell because is not like I was a bad person and it was just some weed," he said.

Comrie said that he lost contact with his friends and co-accused after he migrated. He said that from what he heard, the arrest damaged their lives.

"The rest of the man them end up being criminals, and I can swear on a stack of Bible that they wouldn't be dead if it wasn't for that arrest because is like all of them just go down the wrong path after that," Comrie said.

"Remember that all of us were gainfully employed at that time and all of a sudden we turn criminal and get turn down by the system because of an ounce of weed," he continued.

Jamaica, in 2015, passed a major amendment to the Dangerous Drugs Act, which made the possession of two ounces or less of ganja a non-arrestable, but ticketable, offence attracting a fixed monetary penalty.

The amended law now allows for a scheme of licences, permits, and other authorisations which enable the establishment of a lawful, regulated industry for ganja for medical, therapeutic and scientific purposes. Since the law was amended, several medical marijuana dispensaries have also been opened on the island.

"Just look how things change. People can sell weed and is it mash up six of us lives just like that," Comrie lamented.

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