WHILE local authorities await word from a CARICOM-established commission to deal with the debate surrounding the decriminalization/legalization of marijuana within the region, a prominent tax consultant suggests that Saint Lucia might be missing out on opportunities.
Richard Peterkin told reporters last Sunday that as the United States “is moving so rapidly” in its pace towards decriminalizing and legalizing the herb, “we might find that the areas of the States where our tourists come from have suddenly legalized marijuana.” That scenario, Peterkin said, can present a challenge to local authorities since most of the island’s stay-over visitors (about 42%) emanate from the United States.
“If some of the folks there seem to indulge in marijuana, then when they take their vacations they’ll want to ensure that they can go to a place in the world – even the Caribbean – where they’re not going to be harassed and it is legal,” Peterkin said.
Peterkin said that in light of the new development taking place, visitors might end up choosing destinations where they feel they will not be prosecuted over those that have stringent anti-marijuana legislation. Those countries within the region that would have relaxed their legislation regarding marijuana, he said, stand to benefit. He believes the issue is one that need addressing urgently.
“Jamaica has now gone ahead and decriminalized it, clearly giving the intention that they’re not going to harass people for possession of small amounts. CARICOM talked about a commission to look into it and I haven’t heard a word about this commission. So we just need to get realistic and address these things and make a decision one way or another. We’re either going to go along with it or a part of it or manage it more carefully,” Peterkin said.
Peterkin said Saint Lucians and foreigners need to know where local authorities stand on the matter, “otherwise, we can find ourselves losing out.” While he acknowledged that visitors do not come to Saint Lucia solely to light up a spliff, Peterkin said there are people who engage in the activity as their normal way of life. There is much interest in medical tourism, he said, but local policies need to change to encourage that.
“So whatever the policies are, let’s just make decisions and let people know instead of just dragging our feet and kicking the can down the road. So that’s just my position. I’m not going to say that I’m for or against but certainly I’m for the decriminalization. I don’t think we should have young people in jail for small amounts of weed. I don’t think it makes any sense,” Peterkin said.
Instead of spending resources to imprison people found with small amounts of marijuana, Peterkin said the official policy should be to “go after those who have endangered the lives of people or are making illicit gains from the pushing of drugs.”
“The hope is that if it is done properly and quickly and that we follow the pattern of a lot of other countries, there will be benefits down the road,” Peterkin said.