Non-emotional discussion overdue on cannabis decriminalisation

by Linda Straker

  • Commission mandated in 2014 to interrogate regulating cannabis/marijuana in Caricom countries
  • To date, Jamaica, Antigua, and St Vincent have legislated for medical, personal and religious usage
  • For years, Caribbean citizens have promoted marijuana for its medicinal properties

Recently, it became national news that the Drug Squad in the Royal Grenada Police Force seized cannabis mainly from St Vincent and the Grenadines with a street value of millions. The immediate cry was “free the herb” from many who over the years have advocated for the decriminalisation of cannabis.

Responding to increasing calls from the public, NGOs and other stakeholders in the region, and amidst the changing global environment, the Caricom Conference of Heads of Government at its 25th Inter-Sessional Meeting in St Vincent and the Grenadines, in March 2014, mandated the establishment of a Commission to interrogate the issue of possible reform to the legal regimes regulating cannabis/marijuana in Caricom countries.

The heads at the time were deeply concerned that thousands of young persons throughout the region had suffered incarceration for marijuana use and consumption, and many, after their first experience with the law, resolved to continue with crime as a way of life. Inconsistent applications of the law had led to deep resentment and non-cooperation with law enforcement agencies.

They were also mindful that for years, Caribbean citizens have promoted the value of marijuana for its medicinal properties. Increasingly, these claims appeared to be confirmed by emerging scientific evidence. There was also a concern that without action, the region could be left behind because of fast-paced global trends toward law reform in terms of cannabis/marijuana. Already, several states in the United States had decriminalised the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

The report from that Caricom Commission on Marijuana was presented in 2018. To date, Jamaica, Antigua, and St Vincent have legislated for medical, personal and religious usage. The time is long overdue for Grenada to have a non-emotional discussion on the decriminalisation of cannabis.

Recently, it was drawn to our attention that young men who are heading to Canada for seasonal agricultural work are not just going to plant and harvest apples and strawberries, but are going to marijuana farms where they will learn the science of growing cannabis.

These men will be returning at the end of their contract with knowledge about the cannabis industry, which we as a country need to harness for the long term. The discussion on decriminalising cannabis is not just about changing the laws, but should look at the overall implementation it will have on us as a society.

Can marijuana export increase our export earnings through a proper structure? What type of general education should be embarked on when a decision is made? How is our healthcare system prepared to deal with the sudden abuse of cannabis intake?

These are some of the non-emotional discussions that need to take place urgently because like it or not, it’s only a matter of time before cannabis classification is reduced. There was a time was alcohol was prohibited but now it is not; however, there are regulations which guide its sale and consumption. The same applies to tobacco products.

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