Caribbean leaders to look at contentious marijuana issue

Bert Wilkinson | 7/5/2018, 10:30 a.m.
Perhaps for the first time in more than a decade, each and every leader of the 15-nation Caribbean Community has ...

Perhaps for the first time in more than a decade, each and every leader of the 15-nation Caribbean Community has confirmed travel plans and is headed north to Jamaica to attend this week’s main summit to address heavyweight issues such as the decriminalization of marijuana and lingering problems associated with free trade and the single trading market.

The more important of two summits that are held in the bloc’s calendar year, the three-day conference is scheduled to end in the northwestern resort town of Montego Bay on Friday. By then, leaders and high officials hope that decisions will have already been made on some key issues, including the contentious one regarding marijuana use in the region.

At a summit in tiny St. Vincent back in 2014, leaders decided that the time had come to take a once and for all look at the question of marijuana use and abuse and possibilities for the region to follow the developed world in cashing in on a fledgling revenue sector. Like law enforcement and other officials, they were also worried that laws on the books had persistently forced police and other agencies to cram prisons with youngsters, arrested for possessing even the smallest amounts of marijuana on their persons.

Not waiting for a decision from a full conference, Jamaica, Antigua and Belize have already moved ahead, amending local laws to allow for specific quantities of the drug without penalties.

The marijuana issue is one of the main agenda items at this conference, especially so because the nine-person commission that had been appointed to comprehensively examine the marijuana question has completed its report and submitted it to leaders.

The commission recommended the dismantling of the prohibition of marijuana across the community, from Suriname and Guyana on the South American mainland to Belize in Central America.

The Gleaner newspaper reports that the commission argued, “A strictly regulated framework for marijuana akin to that for alcohol and tobacco should be introduced. Alcohol and tobacco are harmful substances that are not criminalized in CARICOM states. The commission is unanimous in its view that the current classification for cannabis/ marijuana as a ‘dangerous drug’ with ‘no value’ or narcotic should be changed to a classification of legal cannabis as a ‘controlled substance.’”

It also said that commissioners unanimously agreed that children and youths must be protected from the “possible adverse effects of cannabis and recommended drug-driving laws and mechanisms should be put in place to prevent persons from driving under the influence.”

It also gave a strong hint that the commission recognizes that marijuana has medicinal uses, noting that prohibition for children and younger persons “within an appropriate age limit should be maintained, except for medical reasons.” It further pointed out that young people who use marijuana should be directed to treatment and diversion programs rather than prosecuted or criminalized.

The full report is expected to be released after the conference, likely in a special caucus without the presence of secondary officials.

The conference will entertain Cuba’s brand-new President Miguel Diaz-Canel and Chile’s President Sebastian Piñera as well as U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan.