On Monday 1st April 2019, the Unity Labour Party (ULP) Administration will introduce legislation to parliament to amend the Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Act.
The Act among other things will seek to charge a person, a fine not exceeding $500.00 who is found guilty with 56 grammes or less of cannabis in his possession. It is an opportune time to reiterate the New Democratic Party’s (NDP) position on marijuana as the debate continues.
It was the NDP through the parliamentary representative for the constituency of North Leeward, Roland ‘Patel’ Matthews and Senator, Israel Bruce, who had made the call at a political meeting in Kingstown in 2018; for the government to decriminalize small quantities of marijuana for recreational use; and promised that the NDP will decriminalize small quantities of marijuana for recreational purposes when it gets into office. Bearing in mind, the ULP administration at the time had planned to introduce the Medical Cannabis Industry Bill to parliament.
The NDP is fully in tune with the developments that are taking place worldwide and is cognizant of the history of the region and at home with regards to the usage of marijuana as medicine and for recreation. As a result, the NDP has outlined its position on marijuana:
- The NDP supports the initiative of cannabis/marijuana for medical purposes and publicly called for this long before the Medical Cannabis Industry Bill.
- We will focus primarily on traditional farmers and locals who must benefit from the industry.
- Appropriate land tenure and licensing strategies must be developed to assist small landless traditional farmers who currently squat.
- For the first three (3) years of the regulated industry, licenses should be given to plots of one acre or less.
- Decriminalize possession of up to two (2) ounces of marijuana.
- Permit possession of two (2) ounces or less for personal use, with appropriate restrictions for use in public places.
- Completely expunge all records of convictions for persons convicted of possession of up to 2 ounces of marijuana (including persons currently serving prison sentences.)
- Consider making reparations for persons who paid fines for possession of up to 2 ounces of marijuana.
- Permit use of the herb for religious purposes without state harassment or discrimination
- Permit an individual household to grow up to 5 marijuana trees.
- Encourage meaningful partnerships between traditional farmers and local and foreign investors.
- Encourage marijuana related industries in a regulated environment.
- Work towards legalization of marijuana eventually.
- A Marijuana Farmers Association must be promoted.
- The NDP concludes that the Medical Cannabis Industry Billand the Cannabis Cultivation Amnesty Bill did very little to change the status of marijuana growers.
- Most marijuana farmers are landless since they squatted on crown lands.
- The empowerment of traditional and local farmers is not promoted in the bills.
- The Cannabis Cultivation Amnesty Bill is flawed and exposes traditional farmers to financial loss.
- No financial support is provided for traditional farmers who struggled to create the industry.
The advancement in science and technology has exposed many myths and falsehoods surrounding marijuana. The discussion on the way forward is hindered by varying views rooted in baseless and unfounded statements regarding marijuana and its usage. Every day, the world is rapidly opening up to the understanding that marijuana, a herb, it is not a narcotic but a plant with many benefits for mankind.
The NDP is of the opinion that St. Vincent and the Grenadines should take a serious look at what is taking place worldwide and comes to the realization 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.
Over the years, Vincentian ganja farmers have done fairly well using their expertise and gain 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 legalizing and decriminalizing for recreational usage.
When Canada legalized marijuana, 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.
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.
Therefore, 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 also supports the view of the report of the Commission that declares, “All criminal penalties from marijuana laws should be removed.”
The world is beginning to recognize and accepts marijuana as a herb with medicinal values, and the stigma that has been wrongfully attached to it for over 100 years is eroding rapidly.