Jamaican Senate Says Yes To Marijuana On Bob Marley's Birthday

02/09/2015 06:51 pm ET | Updated Feb 10, 2015

Jamaica took one step closer to decriminalizing marijuana and it couldn't have happened on a more fitting day -- the birthday of Jamaican reggae superstar Bob Marley, whose public embrace of cannabis made him nearly synonymous with the culture of the plant.

On Friday, the Jamaican Senate passed a bill to decriminalize marijuana for medical, religious and scientific purposes. The bill, which would amend the country's Dangerous Drugs Act, would reduce possession of two ounces or less of marijuana for personal use to a ticketable offense, rather than a criminal one. Cultivation of up to five plants would be permitted. Under current Jamaican law, marijuana possession charges can lead to as much as five years in prison and a fine.

Registered health professionals would also be able to prescribe cannabis for various ailments, and accredited institutions could conduct scientific research with the plant. For the first time, Rastafarians -- members of a spiritual movement founded on the island that sees cannabis use as a sacrament -- would be able to legally smoke the substance for religious purposes, according to the Jamaica Information Service.

"The objective is to provide a more enlightened approach to dealing with possession of small quantities and smoking, while still meeting the ends of justice," wrote Jamaican Minister of Justice Mark Goldberg when he announced the measure last year. "The proposed changes represent an approach which will enure to the benefit of the persons concerned and the society as a whole, and reduce the burdens on the court system."

The country's House of Representatives must still review and vote on the bill, the Jamaica Gleaner reported, but it is supported by Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller and is expected to pass.

Friday marked what would have been Marley's 70th birthday. Marley, who died in 1981 from cancer at age 36, was popular worldwide with such hits as "Exodus," "I Shot the Sheriff" and "Jammin'." He used cannabis as part of his Rastafarian religious beliefs, which held that smoking marijuana was a natural, positive part of life that helped one's spiritual growth.

The official Marley website describes the musician as "a staunch supporter of the plant’s meditational, spiritual and healing abilities, and a fierce opponent to those ('political forces') who tried using marijuana as a vehicle for oppression, and to keep certain groups of people out of the societal mainstream."

"Herb, herb is a plant," Marley said in an interview from the late 1970s. "I mean herbs are good for everything. Why, why these people who want to do so much good for everyone, who call themselves governments and this and that. Why them say you must not use the herb? Them just say, 'No, you mustn't use it, you mustn't use it because it will make you rebel.' Against what?" Marley said.

In an interview with Quartz about his father's birthday, Ziggy Marley said the late musician's message was more than just "love and peace and smoke weed."

"Bob was a revolutionary. He was a person who wanted social justice in a real sense, in a real physical sense," Ziggy Marley said.

Bob Marley's family is working to make marijuana more broadly accepted. In 2014, the family joined with a private equity firm to launch the first global consumer marijuana brand, "Marley Natural."

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