Jamaica remains the largest Caribbean supplier of marijuana to the United States and local Caribbean islands. Although cocaine and synthetic drugs are not produced locally, Jamaica is a transit point for drugs trafficked from South America to North America and other international markets. In 2014, drug production and trafficking were enabled and accompanied by organized crime, domestic and international gang activity, and police and government corruption. Illicit drugs are also a means of exchange for illegally-trafficked firearms entering the country, exacerbating Jamaica’s security situation.
Drugs flow from and through Jamaica by maritime conveyance, air freight, human couriers, and to a limited degree by private aircraft. Marijuana and cocaine are trafficked from and through Jamaica into the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, and other Caribbean nations. Jamaica is emerging as a transit point for cocaine leaving Central America and destined for the United States, and some drug trafficking organizations exchange Jamaican marijuana for cocaine.
Factors that contribute to drug trafficking include the country’s convenient geographic position as a waypoint for narcotics trafficked from Latin America; its lengthy, rugged, and difficult-to-patrol coastline; a high volume of tourist travel and airline traffic; its status as a major transshipment hub for maritime containerized cargo; inadequate educational and employment opportunities for at-risk youth who engage in crime; and a struggling economy that encourages marijuana cultivation in rural areas.
The government and law enforcement authorities are committed to combating narcotics and illicit trafficking. However, their efforts were only moderately effective in 2014 because of a lack of sufficient resources, corruption, an inefficient criminal justice system, and the inability of lawmakers to adopt meaningful legislation to combat corruption. Lawmakers are considering proposed legislation to decriminalize the possession and use of small amounts of marijuana for personal use.
B. Drug Control Accomplishments, Policies, and Trends
1. Institutional Development
Cooperation between the Governments of the United States and Jamaica against narcotics and related transnational crime remained strong in 2014. The United States’ primary Jamaican partners are the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF, police), the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF, military), Jamaica Customs, the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM, which investigates police-involved deaths), and the Financial Investigation Division of the Ministry of Finance.
The United States and Jamaica are bilateral parties to both a mutual legal assistance treaty and an extradition treaty. The countries have a strong extradition and mutual assistance relationship, and the extradition treaty was actively and successfully used in 2014. Both governments have a reciprocal agreement to share forfeited criminal assets and a bilateral law enforcement agreement that governs cooperation in the interdiction of the maritime flow of illegal drugs.
The Commissioner of Police, with support from the Minister of National Security, continued to take a strong public stance against police corruption and made progress toward reform of the institution. The Jamaica police have suffered from decades of endemic corruption and high annual numbers of civilian deaths caused by police actions. Efforts to reduce police corruption have succeeded remarkably in recent years, and police-involved deaths decreased by 55 percent in 2014.
Progress in combating narcotics, illicit trafficking and corruption was hobbled by an underfunded, overburdened and sluggish criminal justice system with limited effectiveness in obtaining criminal convictions. However, a jury’s conviction in March of a well-known Jamaican musician for murder was an encouraging development. The conviction relied largely on police and prosecutors’ use of digital forensic evidence, a capability developed over several years with the assistance of the United States.
The conviction rate for murder was approximately five percent, and the courts continued to be plagued with a culture of trial postponements and delay. This lack of efficacy within the criminal courts contributed to impunity for many of the worst criminal offenders and gangs, an abnormally high rate of violent crimes, lack of cooperation by witnesses and potential jurors, frustration among police officers and the public, a significant social cost and drain on the economy, and a disincentive for tourism and international investment.
2. Supply Reduction
The Jamaican government estimates that approximately 15,000 hectares (ha) of marijuana are grown in all 14 parishes of Jamaica. The police and military, supported by the United States, employed teams of civilian cutters to cut growing plants, seize seedlings and cured marijuana, and burn them in the field. Because Jamaican law prohibits the use of herbicides, only manual eradication was conducted.
Eradication of marijuana increased in 2014, with the destruction of 588 ha of cannabis. This compared to 247 ha in 2013 and 711 ha in 2012.
Jamaica prohibits the manufacture, sale, transport, and possession of MDMA (ecstasy) and methamphetamine, and regulates the precursor chemicals used to produce them. Jamaica does not produce precursor chemicals and relies on countries exporting goods to conform to international standards governing export verification. The importation and sale of pharmaceutical products and chemical substances are regulated and reinforced with fines or imprisonment. Other controls monitor the usage of pharmaceutical products and chemical substances including register controls, inspections, and audits. Precursor chemicals continued to move through Jamaica to Central America and were concealed in shipping containers that passed through the Port of Kingston. The chemicals included methylamine hydrochloride and mono-methylamine, both of which are utilized in the manufacture of methamphetamine.
Smugglers continued to use maritime shipping containers, ships, small boats, air freight and couriers to move drugs from and through Jamaica to the United States. One common practice of traffickers was to transport cocaine in large fishing vessels to a point several miles off the Jamaica coast, where small fishing canoes then carried the drugs to shore. Traffickers used the same system in reverse to ship marijuana south to the Caribbean and South America. The JDF Air Wing lacked a fixed wing aircraft capable of detecting and tracking such fishing vessels, and the JDF Coast Guard lacked swift and reliable vessels to intercept them.
In 2014, authorities seized 39.5 metric tons (MT) of cannabis, 0.4 kg of hash oil and 20.5 kg of hashish, compared to 30.9 MT of cannabis, 80.9 kg of hash oil and 22.6 kg of hashish in 2013. Seizures of cocaine decreased to 383.7 kg in 2014 from 1.23 MT in 2013, and seizures of crack cocaine decreased to 0.4 kg in 2014 from 4.0 kg in 2013. High-profile organized criminal gangs continued to successfully operate within Jamaica. Gangs are sometimes afforded community tolerance or protection and, in some cases, are supported through police corruption.
3. Drug Abuse Awareness, Demand Reduction, and Treatment
Marijuana was used by 13.5 percent of the population in 2014, making it the most-abused illicit drug among Jamaicans, while cocaine abusers remained less than 0.1 percent.
The Ministry of Health’s National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA), working through the primary care system and mental health clinics, provides assessment, counseling and treatment services for substance abusers.
The Jamaican government operates one detoxification center located at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) in Kingston, and offers services for dual diagnosis clients through UHWI and Kingston’s Bellevue Hospital (a mental health institution). In collaboration with the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission, Jamaica offers a university-level certificate program for drug professionals in drug addiction and drug prevention. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime works directly with the Jamaican government and non-governmental organizations on demand reduction.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) regulates precursor pharmaceuticals, including the importation of pseudoephedrine, both in powder and final product forms. The NCDA, the Pharmacy Council, and the MOH are working to expand awareness among health professionals on the potential danger of pseudoephedrine and ephedrine when they are diverted to produce methamphetamine.
As a matter of policy, the Jamaican government does not encourage or facilitate illegal activity associated with drug trafficking or the laundering of proceeds from illicit drug transactions. Jamaican law penalizes official corruption; however, corruption remains entrenched, widespread, and compounded by a judicial system that has a poor record of successfully prosecuting corruption cases against high-level law enforcement and government officials.
In 2014, anti-corruption measures within the police continued to show encouraging signs. Additionally, the U.S.-supported non-governmental organization National Integrity Action helped focus increased public and government attention on the need for anti-corruption reforms.
The police Anti-Corruption Branch (ACB) merged with the newly-created Major Organized Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency in 2014, and showed steady success in identifying and removing officers engaged in corrupt and unethical behavior. Since the ACB’s reorganization with international support in 2008, 538 police personnel have resigned or been dismissed for corruption or ethical violations, with 48 of those removed in 2014. Another 32 officers faced criminal corruption charges during the year. The ACB’s merger with the MOCA Agency will broaden the ACB’s role to addressing corruption within the whole of government, rather than within the JCF alone.
Legislation to establish a national anti-corruption agency has been pending before Parliament since 2008. Such an agency is required by the Inter-American Convention against Corruption to which Jamaica is a signatory, but efforts by legislators from both political parties have stalled the proposal. In 2014, the Minister of Justice continued his work with stakeholders to redraft the bill and organize legislative support for advancement of the proposal.
C. National Goals, Bilateral Cooperation, and U.S. Policy Initiatives
The United States supports a wide range of efforts designed to address crime and violence affecting Jamaica, primarily through the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI). CBSI is a security partnership between the United States and Caribbean nations that seeks to substantially reduce illicit trafficking, advance public safety and citizen security, and promote justice.
CBSI funding to advance Jamaica’s transformation into a more secure, democratic, and prosperous partner is a major U.S. policy goal. Narcotics trafficking, corruption, and related crime undermine the rule of law, democratic governance, economic growth, and the quality of life for all Jamaicans. Success in combating crime depends on a comprehensive approach that recognizes the link between drugs, gangs, organized crime, poverty, unemployment, lack of educational opportunities, and government corruption.
CBSI support to Jamaica includes training, equipment and logistical assistance for: the prevention and interdiction of narcotics and firearms trafficking; combatting cyber-crime, money laundering, financial crime, lottery scams, and organized crime; improving Jamaica’s efforts to seize and forfeit criminally-acquired assets; and enhancing Jamaica’s maritime law enforcement capabilities through support for the JCF Marine Division and the JDF Coast Guard. Additionally, Jamaica participated in the CBSI-funded 1st Multilateral Maritime Prosecution and Interdiction Summit in 2014, an initiative intended to promote bilateral cooperation in combating maritime drug trafficking and improving prosecution of maritime trafficking cases.
The United States also funds projects to improve the effectiveness of prosecutors and the courts, the National Forensic Sciences Laboratory, and the Financial Investigation Division of the Ministry of Finance. Indirect support for law enforcement occurred through projects to build community-police relations, improve police training facilities and techniques, strengthen efforts to reduce police corruption and excess use of force, and implement education and workforce development programs targeting at-risk youth who are susceptible to narcotics and gang influence.
In 2014, through strong leadership, stable democratic institutions, and support from the United States and other international partners, Jamaica continued to make slow but steady progress in combating narcotics and firearms trafficking, police corruption, organized crime, and excessive use of force by police.
Success stories, all with U.S. and international support, included the JCF Anti-Corruption Branch, which made steady progress in eliminating corrupt and unethical police officers; the Major Organized Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency, which continued its success in reducing Jamaica lottery scam operations that targeted retirees and the elderly in the United States; the Financial Investigation Division of the Ministry of Finance that increased its ability to curb money laundering and seize criminally-acquired assets; the Independent Commission on Investigations, which was largely responsible for a significant reduction in police-involved deaths; a successful effort to enhance JCF ability to trace seized firearms; and a broad initiative that provided training to criminal prosecutors throughout the island.
The momentum of progress gained within Jamaica’s law enforcement agencies, however, is being limited by a chronic inability of prosecutors and the courts to keep pace and secure prompt convictions. Therefore, it is essential that the United States and its international partners continue to support efforts to reform and strengthen Jamaica’s criminal court system.