Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has made it clear that his recent call for a region-wide conversation on medical marijuana is not a call for the legalisation of the drug.
“As you notice, I am not calling for the decriminalisation of ganja,” he told a press conference on Wednesday after reading the text of a letter he sent to chair of CARICOM, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Kamla Persad Bissessar.
“The longer we wait to give serious regional consideration to this subject, the further behind we will lag in the inevitable legitimisation of medical marijuana globally,” Gonsalves said in his letter.
“In the end, our Caribbean would consume the medical/health, cosmetic, and other products derived from marijuana, legally grown and produced in the USA,” he further wrote.
“… I am calling for an informed discussion on medical marijuana as a commercial industry as has happened in say, the United States of American in several states,” he told journalists.
He further noted that the Organisation of American States, which comprises 34 members, 14 of which belong to CARICOM, has offered other perspectives on marijuana.
“And the OAS has studied this issue and they are putting alternative perspectives, how to address this issue of marijuana.
“All I am saying, on this medical marijuana issue, let’s us look at it. If you want to look at the wider issues, so be it too,” he said, adding that some persons would “attack” and say he is “opening the door for certain dangers” while others would say he is “playing politics”.
“I understand they start to say that. Well, is it good policy? You see, what is happening in this region, there are a lot of things to be said. Reparations, people are afraid to take leadership; medical marijuana, people are afraid to take leadership. You notice [that on the issues of the proposed U.S. military strike against] Syria, I came out front; everybody is lining up now, because I came out front on the issue of principle,” he said.
Gonsalves had issued a statement outlining his government’s opposition to such a military strike, saying it would be premature.
“If you elect a man to lead you, you elect him to give careful consideration to even the most controversial of issues and, where it is relevant, for your country to take a particular stand.
“We’ve been talking for years about the number of trees people chopping down to plant marijuana, about honest banana farmers, some of them have gone to get involved in some cultivation,” he said, adding that the state has been arresting persons in connection with the drug.
“It comes with a lot of criminal issues and money laundering and the other rest of it and we know, just like in the United States. But, can’t we have a medical marijuana industry? That’s the question I am raising. Using the plant for the good of humanity, those aspects of it which are not misused and abused, from which people can benefit,” Gonsalves further said.
He said he knows there will be questions about control.
“We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. It is happening in America … in 20 states,” he said.
Gonsalves, whose government will seek a fourth term in office when the next general elections, constitutionally due in 2015 are called, further noted that there are political implications for his stance.
“If I am to suffer politically for this, so be it … but people will know that I have come to the issue rationally, logically, and there is nothing wrong in having a discussion on the subject.”
The illegal trade in marijuana is said to constitute a significant part of the underground economy of this country and this country is said to be the second largest producer of the drug in the Caribbean.
Gonsalves said: “Somehow, I am confident that Vincentians will say and the people across the Caribbean will say thank God for the leadership of comrade Ralph.
“Let us have an intelligent conversation in the early years of the 20th century about something which people are afraid to talk about.
“And I ask you this question: what is the sense of third terms and fourth terms if you want to do only those things which some people, with all the legacy of all sorts of prejudices and all sorts of ideas, they don’t want to address? Think about it. So, I put down my marker for a discussion on it,” he said.