Leaders of the major churches in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) say they acknowledge the potential benefits of medicinal marijuana but have expressed concerns about the government’s approach to the issue as well as the potential social impact.
“Our primary concern relates to the social impact and the related costs to our national wellbeing and development. We are mindful of the view that ‘we are not managing alcohol and its impact on our youth’; how much more can we manage possible increased access to marijuana,” clerics said in a statement issued on Wednesday.
The St. Vincent and the Grenadines Christian Council in conjunction with the Seventh-day Adventists, Spiritual Baptist Archdiocese and the Evangelical Association elaborated their position in the statement.
Amidst the church leaders acknowledgment of the potential healing power of the marijuana plant, they also raised concerns about the negative social impact.
“The Heads of Churches do not dispute the research that marijuana has medical benefits; neither do they dispute the need for continuing research which can lead to accrued benefits for the citizens of St Vincent and the Grenadines and the world over living a healthier and fulfilled life.
“However, as good and beneficial as ‘medicinal marijuana’ may appear to be, we believe of themselves, they do not constitute sufficient argument for the legalization of marijuana in St Vincent and the Grenadines.”
The church leaders said there are “several other compelling arguments which must be brought to light and fleshed out as the proposal engages national attention and public consumption”.
The Unity Labour Party administration has announced its intention to establish a medical marijuana industry in SVG.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said last Saturday that his government expects to receive by this week the draft legislation and that it could be passed into law as soon as March.
However, the church leaders said, “The haste at which the Government is moving on the matter gives a distinct impression that this is a ‘fait accompli’ and that public consultation is either for ‘rubber stamping’ or to fine-tune the forward thrust.
“That there has been no ‘concept document’ outlining a proposal with the legal and institutional framework to enable proper assessment, thorough analysis and robust evaluation to determine whether St. Vincent and the Grenadines has the institutional capacity and political will to undertake and manage such an enterprise. This should not simply be ‘draft legislation’ since the matter is much more complex than legislative frameworks.”
Two prominent members of the main opposition New Democratic Party –Member of Parliament for North Leeward, Roland “Patel” Matthews and the party’s caretaker for South Central Windward, Israel Bruce – have publicly stated their support for legalising small quantities of marijuana for recreational use.
St. Clair Leacock, Member of Parliament for Central Kingstown, has said that the government has not consulted the opposition regarding the establishment of a medical marijuana industry in SVG.
The church leaders said that the indication is that the government’s proposed law will be circulated after presentation to Parliament and said that can be viewed as “a disregard of critical organizational and other stakeholders’ analysis”.
The religious leaders further noted that SVG is moving ahead with its medical marijuana industry even as CARICOM’s Regional Marijuana Commission is yet to complete its work.
The commission was set up as a result of Gonsalves’ activism and has been conducting “a rigorous enquiry into the social, economic, health and legal issues surrounding marijuana use in the Caribbean and to determine whether there should be a change in the current drug classification of marijuana, thereby making the drug more accessible for all types of usage (religious, recreational, medical and research)”
“The integrity of our nation as a member of CARICOM demands that we receive the report from the ‘Regional Commission on Marijuana’ established by the CARICOM Heads of Government before advancing our own programme,” the church leaders’ statement said.
The churches said they were mindful that SVG has continued to see “the impact of marijuana on our youth, heavily contributing to antisocial behaviours and mental illness”.
They said that though some of the research has argued that marijuana is not a gateway drug, “we cannot ignore the fact that many persons in St. Vincent and the Grenadines who have turned to ‘hard drugs’ had their first narcotic encounter with marijuana”.
There has been no adequate and thorough analysis of the current social impact of marijuana on our nation, especially our youth, in a manner that will enable an honest assessment of risk factors, the churches said.
“The information presented thus far in the engagement of the church and in the media does not adequately represent the ‘pros and cons’ in a responsible enough manner to enable honest assessment and mature decision-making,” the church leaders said.