“The analysis of the comprehensive information gathered indicates that the current legal regime for cannabis/marijuana, characterised as it is by prohibition and draconian criminal penalties, is ineffective, incongruous, obsolete and deeply unjust,” says the report, which was produced after four years of research across the region.
“After considering the most up to date evidence and the views of Caribbean peoples, the Commission is unanimous in its view that the status quo with respect to the legal regime governing cannabis/marijuana cannot be maintained and legal reform should be a priority for member states,” the commission, which was chaired by Professor Rose-Marie Belle Antoine said.
The commission was unanimous in its view that children and young persons must be protected from possible adverse effects of cannabis.
“Consequently, prohibition for children and young persons within an appropriate age limit should be maintained except for medical reasons. However, young people who use marijuana should be directed to treatment and diversion programmes rather than being prosecuted or criminalised.”
The report, which was presented to CARICOM Heads of Government at their 39th annual conference in Jamaica, this month, was titled “Waiting to Exhale — Safeguarding Our Future Through Responsible Socio-Legal Policy on Marijuana”
The report said that marijuana is also widely used in the Commonwealth Caribbean across all borders and strata, despite the “draconian, prohibitionist legal regime that exists in every Member State” and further noted that marijuana is the most extensively used illicit drug in the world.
The World Drug Report (2017) notes that an estimated 183 million people consume marijuana, said the report, which analysed the social, religious, legal, scientific and medical issues associated with marijuana use, gleaning information from literature reviews and views from the public.
“… it is clear that in the region, attitudes toward cannabis have changed in recent times,” the commission said, adding that there is now “overwhelming support for law reform, moving away from the prohibition on cannabis and consequent criminalisation”.
The report said that this is 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, directors of public prosecution, members of parliament and senior members of the Bar.
It said that in Barbados, public opinion for those who want law reform grew to over 63 per cent, in 2017, from below 30 per cent three years previously, while in Grenada, it was 61 per cent in 2018 and 62 per cent in Antigua and Barbuda in 2016, adding that similar statistics obtain elsewhere in the region.
“The majority of Caribbean peoples believe that the cannabis/marijuana laws are ineffective, discriminatory, deeply unjust, unfit for purpose, violate rights and lack legitimacy.
“They also believe 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.
“The groundswell of support and enthusiasm for change is a significant indicator to CARICOM governments on the question of law reform.”
The commission said that it also interrogated and analysed the most up to date scientific, medical, legal and social data to substantiate these views.
“It found that the evidence clearly supports this public opinion and demonstrates that the existing prohibitionist regime induces more harm than any possible adverse consequences of cannabis/marijuana itself. It seems that Caribbean peoples have their hand on the pulse. Indeed, in many respects the ‘horse has already bolted,’ since Caribbean nationals are already accessing marijuana as ‘medical refugees’ from the several countries, including allies that have already decriminalised, or legalised the plant,” the report said.
It said 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.
“These are legitimate concerns which the Commission carefully assessed. Some of these fears have been assuaged through the modern scientific research that was harnessed. Others remain, but the Commission is satisfied that they can be appropriately addressed through a responsible framework for law reform as is advocated in this Report,” the report said.
In addressing the way forward, the commission said it believes that the end goal for CARICOM should be “the dismantling of prohibition in its totality, to be replaced by a strictly regulated framework akin to that for alcohol and tobacco, which are harmful substances that are not criminalised.
However, it said that law reform can take many forms and should conform to national realities.
“This is particularly because the Commission is of the view that law reform should not adopt a laissez-faire, liberalised approach, but proceed within a responsible, controlled regime that will depend on focussed and adequate institutional resources to achieve the desirable objectives.
The commission is unanimous in its view that the current classification for cannabis/marijuana as a “dangerous drug” with “no value” or narcotic, should be changed to a classification of cannabis as a “controlled substance”.
The commission is also unanimous in its view that ultimately, legal policy toward marijuana should be informed, not by punitive approaches, but by public health rationales, within a human rights, social justice and developmental perspective, the report said.
Responding to the increasing calls from the public, 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 in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, in March 2014, mandated the establishment of a CARICOM Regional Marijuana Commission.
The commission was mandated to interrogate the issue of possible reform to the legal regimes regulating marijuana in CARICOM countries.
CARICOM leaders were 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.
Inconsistent applications of the law had led to deep resentment and non-cooperation with law enforcement agencies.