More CARICOM countries easing marijuana laws, penalties

Bert Wilkinson | 9/13/2018, 2:43 p.m.

In recent weeks, several members of the 15-nation CARICOM have made progressive moves to soften legislation dealing with marijuana use for various purposes in the wake of an edict from leaders for the region to review the regional approach to the issue.

When they met as recently as July in Jamaica, heads of government had agreed to reclassify marijuana from decades of being regarded as an illicit drug and putting it on the same level as alcohol.

Since then, a number of countries such as Trinidad and Guyana, which had intransigent positions against easing up on punitive legislation, are now softening their positions and are moving to amend laws and approaches to marijuana use.

Just this week, Prime Minister Keith Rowley of Trinidad dropped a progressive bomb on the nation, telling a party rally that authorities will review legislation in its entirety next year.

This decision by Rowley and his cabinet has to be regarded as a major victory for people who have been advocating for change, given the fact that he said just a few weeks earlier, “We have priorities and decriminalizing marijuana is not one of them.”

Down south in Guyana, President David Granger assured the region’s largest nation that his cabinet will soon have a full discussion about marijuana, even as the plan is to tread cautiously for fear of Wild West usage if laws are amended to allow for personal use.

He said authorities do not now favor decriminalization but are quite willing to “give consideration” to proposals to eliminate jail time for possession of less than 15 grams. The discussion will be predicated on a full report from the health ministry.

Meanwhile, the administration of Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves in St. Vincent is sending three marijuana-related bills to a bipartisan special committee to review the clauses now that these bills have been tabled in parliament for a first reading.

Agricultural Minister Saboto Caesar identified the three bills as the Medicinal Cannabis Industry Act, the Cannabis Cultivation Amnesty Bill and the Permitted Use if Cannabis for Religious Purposes Bill.

Giving a strong hint of what is to come, Attorney General Jaundy Martin Caesar said the industry bill will cover issues relating to the supply and use of cannabis for medical purposes.

“That is, for the treatment of persons with qualifying medical conditions, to provide for the establishment of the Medicinal Cannabis Authority and the Medicinal Cannabis Advisory Council and for matters and purposes incidental thereto,” said Caesar.

Additionally, the bill relating to cultivation will allow for an amnesty to be put in place from this month for one year for persons cultivating marijuana plants illegally before the amnesty period kicks in and is approved by the house. Such farmers have the option of “surrendering their crop or harvesting upon the issuance of a traditional cultivation license.”

Several countries have already gone ahead with major overhauls of legislation, including Jamaica, Belize and Antigua, where each home is allowed to cultivate no more than four plans for personal use. Authorities there are also moving to wipe away convictions for persons whose lives had been turned upside down after serving time for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The minister said that the bill relating to religious purposes provides for decriminalization as a sacrament and will permit Rastafarians and other groups to imbibe at their places of worship or at events exempted by government.

“Whatever happens with the developments with respect to medical marijuana or those persons here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines who are engaged in providing products to the people who may make medicine and so on, whatever we do has to benefit our people,” Caesar said.