62 per cent of Vincentians do not want recreational marijuana legalised – PM
July 31, 2018
62 per cent of Vincentians do not want recreational marijuana legalised – PM

Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves says that 62 per cent of persons living in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) do not want to see marijuana decriminalized for recreational purposes, while 66 per cent support decriminalization for medicinal purposes.

Speaking to journalists at the renaming of the South Leeward Highway on July 19, the PM said that a survey was conducted, and this is the information that it revealed.

The PM was answering a question from a journalist in relation to a report which was submitted to the Caribbean Community Heads of Government last June.

The report was done by the CARICOM Regional Commission on Marijuana and sanctioned by the CARICOM Conference of Heads of Government at its 25th Inter-Sessional Conference in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) in 2014.

The report dubbed, “Waiting to Exhale: Safeguarding our Future through responsible socio-legal policy on Marijuana” encourages the decriminalization of marijuana.

Gonsalves said that a lot of work was done on the report and he commended the authors, but noted that the document has some weak areas.

“In relation to the report you have to read it more general and specific because they said each country will proceed in accordance with its own set of realities and the general case which they have made for the decriminalization, for purposes of recreation they have made a good case, but it does not mean that it is the way you have to proceed,” Gonsalves told journalists, adding that the report does not answer the question of banking and that is one of its weakest areas.

He said that the most important thing for SVG in relation to marijuana is the word “industry” and the government wants marijuana to create wealth, create jobs, and enable persons to make a good sustainable living, hence the move to establish a medicinal marijuana industry.

“It is our judgment that in the specific case of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the best way to do that is for us to address the question of the decriminalization and legalizing for the purposes of the medical cannabis industry and not to just decriminalize, but to legalize for persons of religious persuasion who want to use it in registered tabernacles,” said the PM.

He stressed that in SVG, the matter of people using marijuana for recreational purposes has been, over the years, met with tolerance by the police and while some persons may not think this is the case, there is no evidence to prove otherwise.
He said most magistrates who encounter persons with small amounts of marijuana, deal very fairly with these persons.

“For the last two independence I asked for a report from the prisons for persons who are there for small quantities of ganga, so I can take them to the committee of mercy to see whether they could be released, and I could not find one person,” revealed the PM, who noted that he has heard of cases where persons have been fined as little as EC$100 for the possession of marijuana.

The PM said that while the recent survey does not support decriminalization, he is aware that there are a lot of people who smoke marijuana privately and the 38 per cent that support decriminalization is a significant number.

“What we are doing is decriminalizing and legalizing for the purposes of the industry and we have a good Bill published and there will be discussions,” Gonsalves added while noting that soon, persons would be able to smoke marijuana at registered tabernacles and sanctioned events without police harassment.

“It’s three prongs, medicinal, legalizing in registered tabernacles and for police tolerance,” said the PM, who however noted that tolerance cannot be regulated.

He said that decriminalization can create problems between the police and citizens, because if a person has two ounces, police do not walk around with scales.

“Laws must be sensible…Jamaica spent a lot of time on the decriminalization front and they have not exported one ounce of ganga yet. In Jamaica, more ganga is grown for the local market. It is difficult to get a license and people are still growing it illegally for what is a semi-legal market, so when you tell me it working (in Jamaica), working from which standpoint?” Gonsalves questioned.

He noted that what can change is the Rehabilitation of Criminal Offenders Act, which can be amended to address persons who are held with small quantities where their record disappears in a year, as opposed to five years.