ANTIGUA – Parliament gives nod to bill on marijuana use

The Antigua and Barbuda Parliament have approved legislation allowing for people here to be able to use up to 15 grammes of cannabis for personal use.

“The reality is, Mr. Speaker, the use of marijuana is now socially acceptable, it is, in essence, a part of the culture of the country and so the efforts over the last few decades to drive the use of marijuana underground has not worked,” Prime Minister Gaston Browne said Tuesday as he made his contribution to the debate on the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill.

Browne told legislators that there is a large section of the population that would use cannabis and as such criminalising people was posing a developmental challenge.

He said decriminalisation was a form of rebalancing as the authorities look to deal with the issue directly. But he warned that the ease up on prosecution is to be complemented by a public education component to sensitise the public about the dangers of drug abuse.

“I want to make it abundantly clear that my government is not advocating the use of cannabis, we are against anything that is smoked.

“We do accept, though, on the other hand, that marijuana utilised in different forms has significant medicinal benefits and certainly we’ll move pretty quickly to ensure that we legalise the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes,” he said.

Prime Minister Browne told Parliament that the government would be pursuing research in that regard and will also be looking to Canada which has promised to legalise cannabis for recreational use by July.

The bill had its first reading in the Parliament last December, but was subsequently sent to a select committee to allow for more public consultations.

According to the recommendations emanating from the January 23 public event, there was a need to raise the amount of marijuana for personal use from 10 to 12 grammes to as much as in the case in Jamaica.

Last September, an opinion poll conducted by the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES) found there was support for the decriminalisation of marijuana for medical and religious purposes.

CADRES said the poll showed that at the national level, the single largest portion of the population now supports what is commonly referred to as “decriminalisation” as distinct from “legalisation”.

It said 34 percent now support marijuana being made legal for medical and religious purposes, while 30 percent would prefer that marijuana remain illegal in all respects.

“Needless to say there is no plurality of citizens in any single category; however, if one were to add those who support partial and full decriminalisation (legalisation) some 62 per cent (which is a plurality) is in support of some form of decriminalisation,” CADRES noted.

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