Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves says he will not speculate about the outcome of the discussion in CARICOM of the decriminalisation of marijuana for medical purposes.
He further sidestepped a question about whether his government is willing to follow the lead of Jamaica, which last month decriminalised small quantities of marijuana for personal use.
“A process had commenced in CARICOM,” Gonsalves said at a press conference on Monday, his last day as chair of the regional bloc.
“There is a commission, which would be appointed and there are terms of reference to be approved at this meeting in Antigua,” he said of CARICOM’s annual summit, which begins in St. John’s today — Tuesday.
“I would not prejudge what the commission will say,” Gonsalves said, adding that the commission will consider changes to marijuana legislations in countries around the world, including Jamaica, the United States, Sweden, and Uruguay.
“They will look at any number of places and they will make their recommendations. I await those recommendations,” Gonsalves said.
He further said it seems counterproductive “to ignore the potential of an industry in respect of medical marijuana and to continue to expend police, national security, court resources on persons who consume a minuscule amount of marijuana in the privacy of their homes”. Gonsalves initiated the discussion in CARICOM on the decriminalisation of marijuana for medical purposes.
State and health officials in several CARICOM nations have expressed reservation or outright opposition to changes to their respective marijuana legislation.
“There are young people, good boys and girls, in many cases, good Christian boys and girls, good students, who get caught behind their grandmothers’ houses smoking under 15 grammes of marijuana — a spliff,” Gonsalves said.
He noted that the laws of St. Vincent and the Grenadines classify as possession with intent to supply the possession of more than 15 grammes (0.5 ounce) of marijuana.
“There are persons who have been criminalised for smoking a joint. With all the years of experience I have and all the studies I have to this matter, that seems to me to be entirely counterproductive and we need to have a serious conversation about that,” said Gonsalves, a lawyer, who is also Minister of Legal Affairs and National Security.
“You don’t need to have an absolutely moral position on it, the same thing with alcohol. At the same time, whatever programme is done, we have to speak about negative side of marijuana and we have to deal with the educational and health issues attendant upon the misuse and abuse of marijuana.
“But what I have just said there does not in any way shut out an intelligent mature conversation on medical marijuana or for its decriminalisation in respect of very small quantities in your private spaces. It’s a subject about which we should talk and there are people who are afraid to talk about it,” he said, and
accused the opposition New Democratic Party of not contributing to the discussion.
“They are afraid to touch it, because it is such a controversial subject. But, if I see reason in having a mature conversation on something, I don’t see why we shouldn’t. Some other issue may better be left to NGOs to initiate those conversations and have them, but I think this matter has reached a stage where at the state level it requires some serious conversation, which is happening at CARICOM,” Gonsalves said.
“I would not, therefore, prejudge what will happen and I therefore do not accept your invitation in that context to speculate on a hypothetical question,” he said.