CARICOM to hold marijuana consultations here

Flashback to the first regional consultation held in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Head of Commission (4th from R) Prof. Rosemarie Belle-Antoine, members of the Commission w St. Vincent PM Ralph Gonsalves (5th from R) and CARICOM Secretariat Assistant Secretary General for Human and Social Development , Dr. Douglas Slater, in June 2016. (CARICOM photo)

Guyana will on Monday host  consultations on the use of marijuana as part of CARICOM’s  call for ”careful in-depth research” to inform decision-making on the issue.

The Regional Commission on Marijuana, established by CARICOM Heads of Government, will convene a number of focus groups with Youth, Faith-based organizations and special interests groups. A Town Hall Meeting is scheduled for 5 pm at the St. Stanislaus College, Brickdam, Georgetown, according to a release today from CARICOM.

Flashback to the first regional consultation held in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Head of Commission (4th from R) Prof. Rosemarie Belle-Antoine, members of the Commission w St. Vincent PM Ralph Gonsalves (5th from R) and CARICOM Secretariat Assistant Secretary General for Human and Social Development , Dr. Douglas Slater, in June 2016. (CARICOM photo)

The region-wide consultations are intended  to gather information on the social, economic, health and legal issues  related to marijuana use in the Caribbean. Such information would help determine whether there should be a change in the current drug classification, modeled after  the UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances.

For several years now, a bid here by APNU+AFC MP Michael Carrington and others to press for a relaxing of penalties on marijuana has stalled.

The Narcotics Drug and Psychotropic Substances (Control) (Amendment) Bill was tabled in December 2015  in Carrington’s name but has not been considered since the main component of the governing coalition, A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), apparently had difficulties with it. Carrington represents the AFC wing of the coalition.

The bill seeks to soften penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

For years, the prison system has been clogged up with persons remanded or jailed for being in possession of small amounts of marijuana and the problem reached a crescendo in July when the overcrowded Camp Street jail was burnt to the ground during a prison break.

Under Guyana’s Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) Act of 1988, possession of 15 grammes and over of cannabis attracts a charge of possession of narcotics for the purpose of trafficking. Any person summarily convicted with that offence is liable to a sentence of at least three years but no more than five years in prison and a fine of at least $30,000 or the equivalent of three times the street value of the drug.

Carrington repeatedly questioned why it is that those selling the marijuana are not caught and prosecuted to send a strong message that such a practice would not be tolerated.

“If the traffickers can find the people to sell the drugs to, why the police can’t find them (the traffickers/sellers)?”, he asked.

“I am totally against jailing a person just for a joint”, he stressed while contending that it is untrue that marijuana use causes a person to engage in criminal activities.

The CARICOM release said that given that reclassification of the drug would make it legally accessible for all types of use, including religious, recreational, medical and research, the Regional Commission is expected also to provide recommendations on the legal and administrative conditions that will apply.

The release noted that many countries’ laws do not currently allow for full legislation under international law and national approaches to addressing this issue have resulted in various positions.  In the case of Jamaica, the release noted, the Dangerous Drugs Act was amended in 2016 and legislation was passed which reduced possession of small quantities to a petty offence. It also created the framework for legal medical marijuana, hemp and nutraceutical industries.

Further, Antigua and Barbuda’s Cabinet agreed in August 2016 to send a draft law to Parliament for its first reading. In August of this year, Belize tabled an amendment to its Misuse of Drugs Act, to decriminalise the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana.

To date, the release said that consultations have taken place in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda and Barbados.  National consultations will continue  in Suriname, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Belize.

The Commission is headed by Prof. Rose-Marie-Bell Antoine, Dean of the Faculty of Law, University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus,and comprises practitioners with expert knowledge in a variety of disciplines.

 

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