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Marijuana on Caricom agenda
Light up or not? T&T’s position on decriminalising use of marijuana for medical reasons is among front burner issues at Caricom’s 25th Intersessional meeting starting today in St Vincent. Caricom chairman St Vincent Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves who led a regional call to decriminalise use of the herb for medicinal purposes has placed the matter on the Intersessional’s agenda for discussions.
Gonsalves met with Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar on the issue last September when Persad-Bissessar was Caricom chairman. T&T’s positions on these and other matters will be presented at the Intersessional by Persad-Bissessar and Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Dookeran. Gonsalves said there is “quite a long” agenda.” for the two-day meeting.
The annual caucus is usually held in February. Gonsalves is quoted by CMC as saying that the decision to postpone it to this month was due to the absence of Persad-Bissessar, who chairs Caricom’s security committee. Persad-Bissessar returned from China last week. Gonsalves said he wanted crime and security discussed and Persad-Bissessar was the lead prime minister on that in the region.
Decriminalising marijuana use is among newer Caricom matters on the agenda. Caricom spokesman Leonard Robertson said a preliminary report on the issue done by researchers, which indicates that decriminalising the herb could help the region’s ailing economies, will be discussed. After Jamaica signalled its intention to decriminalise marijuana use for medical purposes by year end, the Bahamas indicated it was open to discussing the issue at this week’s Intersessional.
While the matter has become a headline grabber, propelled by activists in Jamaica, St Lucia and St Vincent, other agenda items expected to command equal attention focus on information communication technology and human resource development, Foreign Affairs Minister Dookeran said yesterday. Dookeran said the decriminalisation suggestion stemmed from a proposal in a drug report done by the Organisation of American States (OAS).
Gonsalves and Barbadian Prime Minister Freundel Stuart met with Persad-Bissessar last September to discuss the issue. In a letter to Persad-Bissessar seeking the meeting, Gonsalves said it was “high time” Caricom addressed this matter in a “sensible, focused, not hysterical manner.”
He said debate on the issue in Jamaica and other Caricom states about the possibilities of medical marijuana as an economic and commercial industry. Gonsalves said the public was disappointed with Caricom’s failure to jettison “unnecessary caution and lethargy” in addressing some controversial contemporary issues of “real import.”
Just before the meeting, T&T Chief Justice Ivor Archie had said this country’s criminal justice system was in crisis and urgent remedies were needed, adding that one such remedy was decriminalisation of possession of small amounts of marijuana. After the meeting with Gonsalves and Stuart, Persad-Bissessar said Caricom hasn’t taken any decision to support decriminalisation of marijuana in the Caribbean region, although it is conducting research on medicinal use of the plant.
She said Caricom wasn’t in a position at this time to take a decision on the matter. Persad-Bissessar added that T&T’s Government would give the matter consideration but took no position on it. Persad-Bissessar added that much more consultation must take place in Caricom member states with their various stakeholder groups before any consideration to decriminalise marijuana and approve its use for health purposes
She also said that Caricom’s Secretariat was mandated to research the issue with respect to the medical use and the legislative issues. Persad-Bissessar said TT’s National Drug Council, which had been addressing use of cannabis for medical purposes, developed a concept paper which was to be passed to the Caricom Secretariat. Gonsalves said St Vincent had no plan to pass the issue, but would work on it through Caricom.
He said he knew people in St Vincent who used the marijuana for medicinal purposes and the proposal wouldn’t mean legalising it, nor had he reached the stage of seeking decriminalisation for small amounts. He said he was only seeking discussion on medicinal purposes, adding that a plea by St Lucian Prime Minster Kenny Anthony for a Caricom Commission on marijuana fell on deaf ears.