Gonsalves calls for collective Caribbean approach towards marijuana

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

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BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (CMC) — St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves is calling for a collective Caribbean approach regarding the trade and other benefits of marijuana cultivation in the region.

"We have to have the studies. That is why I advocated the Caribbean marijuana commission. In the changing global context of marijuana use, Caribbean economists and other relevant professionals, including those in the pharmaceutical industry, ought to be ahead of the curve in conducting relevant research, not rehearsing traversed territory," Gonsalves said in an address to the launch of 40th anniversary celebrations at the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI).

He told delegates that the studies must point to a means of making the crop economically useful to the islands.

"I don’t want to see a book on ganja (marijuana) in the Caribbean that you just present the information which I could go on the Internet and just read. I want to see serious research about what is happening in the region with it.

"If we don’t do that with marijuana, the people of our Caribbean civilisation are likely on this and other allied matters to be damned forever," Gonsalves said, adding "the metaphoric spoils if our land will be appropriated by others not necessarily through the threat of physical harm but by ignoble covenants forced upon us by our ….circumstances induced in part by our own negligence of failure or refusal to act with urgency and good sense"

In 2014, regional leaders, at their summit in Antigua, announced the establishment of the commission as they discussed the means of decriminalising marijuana for medicinal purposes.

The commission will "conduct a rigorous enquiry into the social, economic, health and legal issues surrounding marijuana use in the region and to advise whether there should be a change in the current drug classification of marijuana, thereby making the drug more accessible for a range of users", according to the communiqué issued at the end of the summit.

Caricom Secretary General Irwin La Rocque said then that the objective of such a commission on marijuana "is to conduct an inquiry into the social, economic, health and legal issues surrounding marijuana use in the Caribbean".

La Rocque said the commission would "determine what recommendations they wish to make based on objective analysis and consultation within the Community".

In his address to the UWI, Gonsalves raised the idea of banana-producing countries in the Caribbean looking to cultivate marijuana as a more productive crop.

He said after 50 years of commercial banana production some islands had become disaster-prone and that it was time the region carried out some serious research on marijuana as a viable regional commercial product.

"I’m satisfied that the banana industry, despite its important historical contribution to several Caribbean economies, particularly from the mid-1950s to the mid-1990s, has been the most environmentally degrading commercial agricultural crop since conquest and settlement."

Gonsalves said that in the United States and Europe, the marijuana business was emerging from "the shadow of illegality to a more enlightened decriminalisation, particularly in respect of medical marijuana and small quantities of the herb for recreational and religious or sacramental use".

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