Caricom: The people say 'legalise it'Sunday, January 21, 2018
BY NAZMA MULLER
Across the Caribbean the strongest view expressed about cannabis is that it ought to be decriminalised or legalised, says head of Caricom's Regional Commission on Marijuana, Professor Rose-Marie Belle Antoine.
Speaking to reporters after a town meeting at Holy Trinity Activity Centre in New Providence, in The Bahamas recently, Antoine said, “[It was an] excellent meeting, very well attended, and my distinct impression is that this is a very important issue for The Bahamas.
“… One of the interesting things, too, is what I said in the beginning: that marijuana isn't just about marijuana — it's about so many other social issues, like poverty and equality in a society, and that came out as well, so I was very pleased. But [it was] a very, very powerful meeting, I think.”
Antoine, who is dean of the Faculty of Law at The UWI, St Augustine, added: “Honestly, [in] every single country we've been, whether it's because those are the ones who came out, the majority of the people have said either decriminalise or legalise, so far.
“That's what they've been saying. I think there is a turn in public opinion; how widespread it is, it's difficult to say.
“But I would say that if people who were very vehemently opposed were indeed that way, they should come out and say so, and they haven't been.
“So I think that tells you something, that there's a softening perhaps of attitudes in relation to marijuana.”
The meeting was part of the commission's mandate to gauge public opinion in Caricom member countries on the issue. Antoine told the Jamaica Observer: “We finally had some traction with the consultations late last year and up till last week (once the funding issues regarding travel were sorted out). The consultations have been going very well. Originally, we had not planned to go to Jamaica but today I understand the Government wants us to visit so I will try my best to convince Caricom we should go. We still also need to persuade Trinidad, but we have done eight so far. Dominica was willing but the hurricane put a stop to that.”
Following the meeting, Bahamian representative on the commission Bishop Simeon Hall expressed support for medical marijuana.
“I have a deeper appreciation for medicinal usage of marijuana than I had previous to coming to this committee,” Hall told reporters.
“…I didn't know. I was prejudiced. My only point though was pastoral, that these young people shouldn't be criminalised for a little joint. I said that years ago.
“I am now a proponent of medicinal usage of marijuana because I've heard enough, like we heard tonight, that it does have some medicinal value and personally, as I said, I have a daughter who is challenged and I'll do anything that I can to keep her alive.”
Asked about recreational use of the drug, Hall said, “Well, that's a different thing. I think that needs more management, but I respect your right as long as it does not infringe on mine or someone else's.”
Hall said he was surprised by the level of support for decriminalisation of cannabis at the meeting, noting that the conversation on the topic needs to continue.
“I believe it is deserving of a national discussion, and that's what you saw tonight.
“Mind you, the majority of persons who spoke seem to be in favour of decriminalising marijuana.
“I'm not sure if they have an appreciation of all the ramifications of that, but I think the conversation should be ongoing.”
Caricom's Marijuana Commission, established in 2014, aims to conduct studies into the “social, economic, health and legal issues surrounding marijuana use in the Caribbean, and to determine whether there should be a change in the current drug classification of marijuana, thereby making the drug more accessible for all types of usage (religious, recreational, medical and research)”.
It also aims to “recommend, if there is to be a reclassification, the legal and administrative conditions that shall apply”.
The commission's report will be presented to the Caricom heads of government in July.
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