Member of Parliament for North Leeward, Roland “Patel” Matthews says the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines should accept CARICOM’s recommendation and decriminalise marijuana for all uses.
After four years of research, the CARICOM Regional Commission on Marijuana, which was established at the urging of Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, said it does not support the reform of marijuana law that focuses only on medical marijuana.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines is expected to pass laws on Thursday to establish a medical marijuana industry and to allow for the use of the plant by religious groups in government-approved circumstances.
An amnesty law will grant a reprieve to persons who have cultivated marijuana illegally but are able to acquire a traditional growers’ licence within a particular timeframe and sell the marijuana within the legal industry.
However, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves says that his government is not willing, at this time, to legalise marijuana for recreational use.
Kingstown is taking this approach notwithstanding that CARICOM said: “A too limited approach to law reform, including one that focuses only on medical marijuana, would be counterproductive and inimical to the goals of Caribbean development, as outlined in the SDGs and endorsed by CARICOM.”
The commission said there was consensus among its members that “all criminal penalties from marijuana laws should be removed”.
Speaking on NICE Radio last week, Matthews noted the findings of the CARICOM commission.
“The report is in tandem with the New Democratic Party, which is, yes, we can make a lot from medical marijuana, yes we should decriminalise or legalise, and also make recommendation for religious sacrament and all of that.
“So I am saying that, broadly speaking, we are all on the same page [with the government], with the exception that the methodology used in bringing this legislation to the public is one that we have great concern about.”
He said that though illegal, the cultivation and trade in marijuana have played an important role in the economy of North Leeward.
“… I understand the benefits, I know what people use the money for because I am living in a constituency where I can see the use of the proceeds from recreational marijuana,” Matthews said.
He said his New Democratic Party supports medical marijuana, the amnesty and recreational use to the extent of decriminalisation of a limited amount.
Matthews said that the farmers are “not getting anything” because the government is saying they have to get on board with medical marijuana.
“Medical marijuana is not the same as recreational marijuana. And I want my brothers and sisters to understand this. It’s a whole new ball game; it’s a different kettle of fish. The growing of medical marijuana is not the same thing as growing recreational marijuana.”
He said that SVG’s marijuana has a good reputation among recreational users the plant.
“You have heard that Vincy weed is the best, all in North America. I have a friend in North America who tells you that whenever Vincy weed in town, whoever has it is king, because of the people who smoke and enjoy it.”
He said that with changing attitude internationally, “I really thought that we would have capitalised on the recreational aspect because we have a niche in that area and 50 years of planting it with over 2,000 people involved – it would have been enough to launch from that platform into recreational marijuana as our main thing.”
Matthews said he was not saying that SVG should have omitted medical marijuana.
He was, however, doubtful that SVG’s medical marijuana industry will have the intended effect.
“Because let me tell you something, go high, go low, when everybody gets on board with medical marijuana, little St. Vincent would be a drop in the bucket. We have to accept that reality. People in Jamaica, in America in various states, recently in the last America elections, you have three states that are on-board in medical marijuana.”
He said that Utah, a traditionally conservative state, has accepted, through their election, to legalise recreational marijuana.
The opposition lawmaker said there are moves to [legalise] recreational in Guyana, Antigua, Jamaica.
“Everybody around St. Vincent is getting on-board but we are playing catch up and in our playing catch-up, we are bypassing that part of the marijuana business that we are accustomed to, that we have become experts at, which is the growing of recreational marijuana.
“… That is our forte. That is where we have been making hundreds of thousands of dollars for a few years well,” Matthews said.