The Government of St Vincent and the Grenadines has declared publicly its intentions of establishing a “Medicinal Marijuana Industry” in St Vincent and the Grenadines for the purpose of legally growing Marijuana for research and medicinal purposes.
A RESPONSE BY HEADS OF CHURCHES
Having been made aware of Government’s move towards legalizing Marijuana for medicinal purposes, the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Christian Council invited Heads of Churches to a meeting to discuss the issue, noting its merits and demerits and to formulate a response in the best interest of honesty, transparency and clarity.
After discussing the issue, based on information that is available, the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Christian Council in conjunction with the Seventh-day Adventists, Spiritual Baptist Archdiocese and the Evangelical Association are pleased to issue the following joint statement, noting several observations and concerns:
CLARIFYING THE ISSUE
The proposal as presented to us is for the legalization of Marijuana with strict regulations which can facilitate further research on the medical uses of Marijuana and its ‘derivatives’; enable pharmaceutical controls and shape an industry that provides significant employment, economic opportunity and activity for national development. This initiative is distinct from the matter of decriminalization of Marijuana or legalization for recreational or religious use.
The Government’s recommendation intends to introduce a special strain of Marijuana which it refers to as “Medical Marijuana.”
We recognize however that it is important to clarify that “Medical Marijuana refers to using the whole Cannabis plant, or the plant’s basic extracts, for the treatment of various ailments or conditions.”
There are various strains of Marijuana, one of which is often referred to as “Medical Marijuana” because of its low level of Tetrahydrocannabinol, (THC) and the reduced potential for a psychoactive effect.
Additionally, while some may be confused between the terms Cannabis and Marijuana or prefer using terms like Medical Cannabis, it should be noted that “Cannabis is a category for a plant species that includes both Hemp and Marijuana. Two related but different plants from the same “family.”
The Heads of Churches do not dispute the research that Marijuana has medical benefits; neither do they dispute the need for continuing research which can lead to accrued benefits for the citizens of St Vincent and the Grenadines and the world over living a healthier and fulfilled life.
However, as good and beneficial as ‘Medicinal Marijuana’ may appear to be, we believe of themselves, they do not constitute sufficient argument for the legalization of Marijuana in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
There are several other compelling arguments which must be brought to light and fleshed out as the proposal engages national attention and public consumption.
The following are relevant concerns that have grasp our engagement about the way this matter is being pursued:
The haste at which the Government is moving on the matter gives a distinct impression that this is a “fait accompli” and that public consultation is either for “rubber stamping” or to fine-tune the forward thrust.
That there has been no “concept document” outlining a proposal with the legal and institutional framework to enable proper assessment, thorough analysis and robust evaluation to determine whether St Vincent and the Grenadines has the institutional capacity and political will to undertake and manage such an enterprise.
This should not simply be “draft legislation” since the matter is much more complex than legislative frameworks.
That the indication that a document would be circulated after presentation to Parliament can be viewed as a disregard of critical organizational and other stakeholders’ analysis.
The integrity of our nation as a member of CARICOM demands that we receive the report from the “Regional Commission on Marijuana” established by the CARICOM Heads of Government before advancing our own program. While we are not aware of the nature of the research or the findings and proposals the commission will present, we believe that the process should be respected since the commission’s mandate includes; conducting “a rigorous enquiry into the social, economic, health and legal issues surrounding Marijuana use in the Caribbean and to determine whether there should be a change in the current drug classification of Marijuana, thereby making the drug more accessible for all types of usage (religious, recreational, medical and research)”
Our primary concern relates to the social impact and the related costs to our national wellbeing and development. We are mindful of the view that “we are not managing alcohol and its impact on our youth;” how much more can we manage possible increased access to Marijuana.
We are mindful that SVG has continued to see the impact of Marijuana on our youth, heavily contributing to antisocial behaviors and mental illness.
Though some of the research have argued that Marijuana is not a gateway drug, we cannot ignore the fact that many persons in St Vincent and the Grenadines who have turned to “hard drugs” had their first narcotic encounter with Marijuana.
That there have been no adequate and thorough analysis of the current social impact of Marijuana on our nation, especially our youth, in a manner that will enable an honest assessment of risk factors.
That the information presented thus far in the engagement of the church and in the media does not adequately represent the “pros and cons” in a responsible-enough manner to enable honest assessment and mature decision making.
While there is the view that responsible legislation will regulate the “Medical Marijuana Industry” and enable the supplanting of the current illegal enterprise, we are aware that the introduction of a ‘weak weed’ will not eliminate the demand for the strong local weed, or for the illegal enterprise.
While the view is that this industry would be heavily regulated and controls put in place, where licenses are granted and pharmaceutical controls implemented with the issuance of prescriptions, what this does not address is the impact on the current illegal trade.
The assumption that current producers will abandon that illegal trade for a highly regulated alternative seems quite unlikely.
While the economic benefits anticipated are expected to be great and there are health benefits anticipated, we are concerned that as a nation we do not currently have the capacity to implement the requisite institutional and structural systems to manage the potential impact on our youth and to address the possible social fallout.
We believe that there is cautionary value in studying the Columbia narrative. In that Jurisdiction, cultivation of Coca and possession of up to one gram of cocaine is legal; however the struggle with the illegal enterprise has been onerous and in many respects a losing battle. While cocaine is a by-product of Coca and in some ways different from the production of Marijuana or “Medical Marijuana,” the struggle to supplant an illegal trade; Government’s failed efforts at crop substitution programs or finding effective social and economic alternatives, aerial spraying and the destruction of fields with the concomitant migration of farmers to harder-to-reach areas all have important lessons which can guide our discourse and pursuit.
While the current proposal is for the introduction of “medical marijuana”, which can be considered a more cautious and controlled approach, the concerns highlighted here and otherwise articulated should also intimate that we do not believe that ‘full legalization’ or the introduction of ‘recreational marijuana’ is an option, if we are seriously concerned about the total wellbeing of our nation and have the interest of our youth at heart.
The concern for the ‘criminalization of our youth’ requires mature exploration and responsible discourse and research to avoid addressing one concern by compounding another.
The Church will continue to be engaged in reflection on these matters, mindful of the wisdom for national policy capsuled in the phrase “man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”.
Many decisions in our modern society have been advanced primarily on the premise of its economic and developmental value.
This has prompted the introduction of concepts such as Social Impact Assessment (SIA) and Cost-benefit analysis (CBA). It is imperative therefore that we deliberately consider that quality of life is more than dollars and cents and juxtapose this discourse with issues such as crime and violence.
It is our hope that the preceding points will add perspective to the conversation; foster an appreciation of the complexity of this matter and the need for wider professional consultation, more public discourse and mature discussion towards responsible decision making for the wellbeing of our nation.