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Reparations, Marijuana on Leaders Summit

Bert Wilkinson | 3/7/2014, 12:25 p.m. | Updated on 3/7/2014, 12:25 p.m.

When Caribbean Community leaders meet in the tiny Eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent next week two unusual items will be on the agenda of their two-day mid-year summit, one to do with an effort to win compensation for Slavery from Europe and the other a debate as to whether regional citizens should be allowed to possess and smoke marijuana, at least for medical reasons.

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, the rabble rousing but mellowing former left-leaning Cold War era Caribbean radical, will preside over the meeting in Kingstown from Monday in a summit that will likely have much to do with his own chirpy personality and the issues he wants to champion while he is the rotating chairman until the main conference in Antigua in July.

Gonsalves made it clear to reporters and anyone willing to listen this week that while the meeting has what he called “quite a long agenda” with usual topics like crime and security and integration, less familiar ones like reparations and medical marijuana use will also be laid before leaders of the 15-nations and chief ministers or premiers from affiliates like Bermuda and the Cayman Islands if they attend.

Both issues debuted at last July’s conference in Trinidad. This time around, the leaders are both likely to meet with the British law firm preparing the case to fight Britain and other European nations to make them pay for the horrors of the Trans Atlantic slave trade as well as review a progress report from the regional committee liaising with the law firm.

Gonsalves calls the reparations and marijuana topics “the newer ones” up for discussion even as a debate is raging in many of the member states as to how governments should deal with the rising global demand to allow for medical marijuana use and possession of small amounts for personal consumption without criminal punishment.

Influential Trinidadian Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar had said after the issue made it on the agenda of last year’s main summit that “we will need much further research on the issue”, noting that leaders have tasked the Caricom Secretariat to do research with respect to the medical issues as well as on the legislative and legal issues.” A preliminary report is likely to be reviewed by leaders at the summit.

Leaders and law enforcement authorities in several of the Caribbean states say that while the arguments for some form of legalization are quite sound, the real worry would be that young adults and even children would have access to the drug and could abuse it. Amendments to national legislations would also significantly result in an easing of jailhouses which are overcrowded with inmates convicted for possessing small amounts of weed.