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Support grows for marijuana decriminalisation across region

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

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PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (CMC) – The chairperson of the Caricom Regional Commission on Marijuana Professor Rose-Marie Belle Antoine says there's much support across the region for the decriminalisation of marijuana.

Speaking at a National Cannabis Rally here on Sunday, Belle Antoine, who is also the dean at the Faculty of Law at the St. Augustine campus at the University of the West Indies (UWI), said that “the vast majority of the people…whom we have spoken to….want law reform”.

“They want the law to change. There's overwhelming support. What is clear is to move away from the prohibition and certainly to move way from criminalisation,” she told supporters of the All Mansions of Rastafari (AMOR) organised rally here.

Earlier this year, the Caricom Regional Commission on Marijuana recommended that marijuana be legalised and regulated, much like alcohol.

“The analysis of the comprehensive information gathered indicates that the current legal regime for cannabis/marijuana, characterised as it is by prohibition and draconian criminal penalties, is ineffective, incongruous, obsolete and deeply unjust,” states the report, which was produced after four years of research across the region.

“After considering the most up to-date evidence and the views of Caribbean peoples, the commission is unanimous in its view that the status quo with respect to the legal regime governing cannabis/marijuana cannot be maintained and legal reform should be a priority for member states,” the commission noted.

But the commission was unanimous in its view that children and young peoplemust be protected from possible adverse effects of cannabis.

“Consequently, prohibition for children and young persons within an appropriate age limit should be maintained except for medical reasons. However, young people who use marijuana should be directed to treatment and diversion programmes rather than being prosecuted or criminalised.”

The report, which was presented to Caricom Heads of Government at their 39th annual conference in Jamaica, in July, was titled “Waiting to Exhale — Safeguarding Our Future Through Responsible Socio-Legal Policy on Marijuana”

The report said that marijuana is also widely used in the Commonwealth Caribbean across all borders and strata, despite the “draconian, prohibitionist legal regime that exists in every Member State” and further noted that marijuana is the most extensively used illicit drug in the world.

Speaking at the rally, Belle Antoine said in Grenada 61 per cent of those polled in 2018 said, “we should change the law, 62 per cent in Antigua, Barbados was also in the 60s.

“Jamaica where they have changed the law it is now in the 90s of those who approve of the law reform. So that means it is working well,” she said, recalling “one of my most vivid memories in Barbados where we had the national consultation was when we had a group of mainly elderly persons, many of them women in wheel chairs who came to the public consultation and begged us 'please, please change the law because we want to be able to use cannabis for our medicinal means…”

Jamaican-born gynaecologist and medical cannabis advocate, Dr Anthony Pottinger said decriminalisation of marijuana is an important step, noting, “we have been toiling in the vineyard for a long time and it would seem like to deaf ears.

“So we are very encouraged when the Prime Minister (Dr Keith Rowley), a couple months ago, came out and sounded very positive with respect to moving this thing along and especially criminalising the youth”.

Last month, Rowley told supporters of the ruling People's National Movement (PNM) that in 2019, his administration would examine legislation regarding marijuana use after indicating that it largely accounts for the imprisonment of young men from certain communities.

“Our jails are full of young people, largely young men, because they smoked a marijuana joint and the law in this country makes the smoking of a marijuana cigarette a criminal offence.

“(But) the marijuana smoking in the… upper echelons of society where a serious number of acres of marijuana is burnt, very few of them end up in jail. If they even get charged it is very unlikely that they will end up in the jail. But the 'gift' for those who are from Laventille, Enterprise or Cunupia – if you get caught with marijuana you're going to jail,” he said.

Dr Pottinger is suggesting that a moratorium be placed on possession of small amounts of marijuana while the authorities work out the details of decriminalisation.

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