July 13, 2018
Change in attitude within CARICOM towards marijuana

A report to the CARICOM Heads of Government says that after holding national consultations it is evident that attitudes toward cannabis have changed in recent times.

Responding to the increasing calls from the public, Non- Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and other stakeholders in the region and amidst the changing global environment, the CARICOM Conference of Heads of Government at its 25th Inter-Sessional Conference (St Vincent and the Grenadines March 10 to 11 2014), mandated the establishment of a CARICOM Regional Marijuana Commission to interrogate the issue of possible reform to the legal regimes regulating cannabis/ marijuana in CARICOM countries.

The Heads were deeply concerned that thousands of young persons throughout the region had suffered incarceration for marijuana use and consumption and many, after their first experiences with the law, resolved to continue with crime as a way of life.

The report, written by the CARICOM Regional Commission on Marijuana and dubbed, “Waiting to exhale safeguarding our future through responsible socio-legal policy on marijuana,” was submitted to CARICOM last month after a petition from the public and reviewing of data from polls and surveys from several countries.

“The Commission is therefore satisfied that it harnessed the regional public’s view in a wide and diverse way as contemplated by our mandate,” said the report which was created with input from countries like Jamaica and St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) and spearheaded by Chair of the CARICOM Regional Commission on Marijuana, Professor and attorney at law Rose-Marie Belle Antoine.

The Commission considered the several multi-faceted aspects of the cannabis/ marijuana question. It analysed the social, religious, legal, scientific and medical issues associated with this subject, gleaning information from literature reviews and views from the public.

“The consequences of a legal regime that is grounded in prohibition and enveloped by criminal sanction, but unaccompanied by a solid evidential basis, are far and wide. They encompass questions of social justice, the efficacy of law enforcement, human rights issues and the very legitimacy of the law itself,” the report stated.

It said that there is now overwhelming support for law reform, moving away from the prohibition on cannabis and consequent criminalisation and noted that this holds true not only from the data, but the many prominent persons and groups that have lent their voice to this cause from all walks of life, including church leaders, magistrates, judges, social workers, educators, doctors, Chief Justices, DPP, Members of Parliament and senior members of the Bar.

“For example, this Report illustrates that in Barbados, public opinion for those who want law reform grew to over 63%, in 2017, from below 30% three years previously, while in Grenada, it was 61% in 2018 and 62% in Antigua & Barbuda in 2016. Similar statistics obtain elsewhere in the region,” the report noted while stressing that the majority of Caribbean people believe that the cannabis/ marijuana laws are ineffective, discriminatory, deeply unjust, unfit for purpose, violate rights and lack legitimacy.

However, while the report states that the existing prohibitionist regime induces more harm than any possible adverse consequences of cannabis/ marijuana itself, it also noted a few issues relating to cannabis and the health of young people.

“More importantly, scientific evidence has now disproved, or severely challenges, some of the most popularly held beliefs and perceptions of harm that currently underpin the law, in particular, the gateway theory, addiction and causative factors in relation to psychosis. It also establishes that cannabis is less harmful, or no more harmful than substances that are not prohibited under law, like alcohol,” said the report.

It added, “Of the potential adverse effects, the Commission is guided by the conclusive evidence that exists for the negative effect on the adolescent brain and on driving.

“Consequently, cannabis/marijuana use for children and young persons is not recommended, except in medical treatment, as it may affect memory, learning and attention and may put youth at risk for early onset of psychosis.

Driving under the influence is also not recommended.”

“The now relatively few voices against change to the law, premise their arguments, not on immorality, or wrongdoing, but chiefly on concern about perceived adverse impacts on mental health, the youth, increased use and the supposed incapacity of institutional resources,” said the report while noting that these are legitimate concerns which the Commission carefully assessed, and thinks can be appropriately addressed through a responsible framework for law reform.

The report also believes that prohibition is preventing the region from taking advantage of the economic opportunities in the cannabis industry and medical research and prohibiting access to medicine that can heal them more effectively and cheaply than traditional pharmaceuticals.