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The New Democratic Party (NDP) is of the opinion that St. Vincent and the Grenadines should take a serious look at what is taking place worldwide and come to the realisation that the prohibition of marijuana usage is quickly breaking down. Our efforts should be geared towards preparing our fragile economy to take full advantage of the benefits of marijuana in a manner that will give all stakeholders involved the advantages that this industry has to offer.
The party takes on board the view of the CARICOM Commission on Marijuana, which states, “A too limited approach to law reform, including one that focuses on medical marijuana, would be counterproductive and inimical to the goals of Caribbean developments as outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and endorsed by Caricom.”
The NDP supports the view of the report of the commission that, “all criminal penalties from marijuana laws should be removed”.
The NDP supports decriminalisation for personal use of up to two ounces. The party is of the view that privilege of the usage of marijuana should be allowed for religious purposes, such as, for Rastafari to practice their faith. The use of marijuana in a person’s home should be a matter of privacy and freedom of rights and should not be subjected to government or state perusals on harassment. Persons should be allowed to grow a number of plants in their homes, (perhaps up to 10 plants), for personal use. These views are supported by many prominent bodies and persons throughout the region. They have all expressed their opinions on the subject of marijuana and are calling for full legalisation and or decriminalisation of marijuana for all its usages.
We anticipate that tensions will develop between investors and local traditional farmers as the industry progresses. As a result, we are in agreement with the CARICOM Commission Report, which states, “Appropriate land tenure and licensing strategies need to be developed to be inclusive to small, landless farmers, who currently squat.” While the main bill seeks to set up a cannabis industry, the contents of the bill hardly venture into the realms of encouraging locals to be innovative and enterprising. Vincentians should be positioned to be more than just the cultivators of marijuana, who merely provide raw materials to foreign investors. Local people who wish to set up marijuana-linked businesses should be encouraged to do so, subject to appropriate licensing regulations.
The Unity Labour Party (ULP) is opposing decriminalisation or legalisation of marijuana apparently because St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a party to many UN narcotics and illegal drug conventions. The argument is that if St. Vincent and the Grenadines contravenes them by legalising or decriminalising marijuana, we run the risk of being sanctioned or otherwise penalised. While this may have some merit, we have seen that some of our Commonwealth counterparts such as Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, and Canada have gone in a direction away from the UN conventions. Uruguay was the first country to legalise marijuana usage. Since then, other countries have either followed or have started the conversation to change their marijuana laws. In the United States of America, the enforcer of the UN Drug Policy, over 30 states have gone the way of using medical marijuana and others have decriminalised marijuana for recreational usage.
These conventions, as set out by the UN, “[h]ave been labelled redundant and dysfunctional even by UN bodies and now lack the legitimacy and consensus to seriously challenge law reform,” according to the CARICOM Commission. We accept that position and the associated view that there are now compelling arguments for reform of the out-dated, ineffective and harmful legal regime that currently governs the use of cannabis/marijuana. CARICOM must work together in an efficacious manner to create a regional position to challenge and seek to amend the out-dated UN treaties that govern cannabis. It is the view of the CARICOM Commission on Marijuana that CARICOM member states, “… should declare that the treaties contravene human rights principles in CARICOM states, so as to ground a justification for avoiding treaty obligations”.
The experience of ganja farmers in St. Vincent and the Grenadines lies with the cultivation of marijuana extensively for recreational purposes. Over the years, Vincentian ganja farmers have done fairly well using their expertise and gain a market for their brand of marijuana. During those years, many lives have been lost: through transporting the product on the high seas, guarding their bases during harvesting of the crop and from police raids, such as Vincy Pac. St. Vincent and the Grenadines has a niche in recreational marijuana and every effort should be made to expand now that countries are legalising and decriminalising for recreational usage. When Canada legalised marijuana a few weeks ago, their entire stock of recreational marijuana was sold out within hours. This is a great opportunity for our embassies and trade missions abroad to start the process of engagement with businesses and look for opportunities. The challenges that will be accompanying the medical marijuana industry will not be so daunting for the traditional farmers who have a wealth of experience in producing marijuana for recreational use.
With the change in attitude for most people around the world and available scientific data to support the long-held view that marijuana is a relatively safer product when compared to cigarettes and alcohol; it is insulting to sensible people why the continued prohibitionist view should be given any relevance in today’s discussion on the way forward regarding marijuana. The continued prosecution of persons for possession of marijuana for personal use is a waste of time and resources to all involved. How can a modern society seek to advance with such a backward view? The mountain of scientific evidence available in support of decriminalisation or legalisation is growing. And the number of countries and states in the United States that are rethinking their hard-lined prohibitionist view of the 1961 Convention on Narcotic Drugs is growing daily.
The NDP considers full legalisation; an aspiration that we and all other peoples and nations should work towards. The world is beginning to recognise, and accepts marijuana as a herb with medicinal values. The stigma that has been wrongfully attached to it for over 100 years is eroding rapidly. The benefits are being highlighted and embraced worldwide. In the meantime, we must carefully craft what is good for St. Vincent and the Grenadines and do what is right by our people. Free up the herb!
The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to email@example.com