Prime Minister Philip J. Pierre has indicated that the decriminalization of cannabis (marijuana) is one step towards the manufacture and commercialization of the herb plant, here.
However, the prime minister noted, there will be inclusive regulatory procedures to prevent smoking in public and to monitor young potential consumers from being led astray.
The ‘ganja bill’ has been on the cards over the past decade and more with successive administrations stating their intentions to move ahead and address this critical issue.
At a house sitting, on Tuesday, PM Pierre spoke of government’s endeavours and plans to firstly, decriminalize the possession of small amounts of cannabis on island.
“We intend through a phased process to decriminalize up to 30 grams of cannabis , initially for one’s personal use, with more comprehensive legislation and regulations for the entire cannabis industry to come later , ” stated the prime minister.
Nevertheless, noted Pierre: “This is not a signal for people to start consuming cannabis, irresponsibly, especially in public spaces. To get respect, one must give respect.”
He said, in order for someone to gain respect “one must respect other people’s rights to breathe clean ‘smoke-free’ air.”
The prime minister said by improving the Misuse of Drugs Act, people will be allowed an amount of 30 grams of marijuana “without being arrested or charged by the police.”
He added that, “By improving the regulatory frame work in the misuse of the Misuse of Drugs Act, we will now be able to address the public health issues associated with cannabis consumption, under-age use and the predisposition to psychosis with cannabis being a trigger for overdosing.”
Pierre said government would now be able to roll out a ‘national education programme’, which will include prevention and harm-reduction strategies.
“We can educate our people on the rules and regulations, as well as implementing both the necessary social and physical infrastructure to deal with this regime,” he stated, adding that “the new legislation is the start, which will allow us to develop a cannabis industry that reports show could provide jobs when fully developed and can contribute dollars to the government’s coffers.”
Speaking to the Rastafarian community, Pierre noted: “The government extends its sincere apologies to your community for the immense suffering you have endured over the decades under this law.”
The prime minister explained that the Drugs Prevention (Amendment) Bill, under the act, stipulates that “cannabis is deemed a controlled drug” and a person found with quantities exceeding 15 grams in their possession is liable for prosecution.
He noted that there is a disparity with the prosecution of such matters that carries a summary conviction of three years in prison or a fine not exceeding $100,000; with persons being charged for either or both possession and intention to supply cannabis.
While this amendment suspends the act by allowing possession of up to 30grams, however, there are restrictions as it relates to the possession of cannabis:
Firstly, a person is prohibited from smoking cannabis in public places, such as bars and restaurants and is liable under summary conviction to a fine not exceeding $1,500.
Another amendment under the act stipulates that a person under the age of 13 years, found in possession of cannabis will be required “to participate in a drug counselling program that is approved by the minister.”
“This is just the first stage of more cannabis legislation that will eventually lead to cannabis being used and if found feasible …as under the ‘Cannabis Commission Report’ , cannabis for export and medicinal use , which would help in foreign exchange and employment ,” asserted Pierre
Speaking to reporters outside parliament, on Tuesday, Pierre reiterated: “That doesn’t mean that we are opening the floodgates. What we are doing is that we are removing the burden on the legal system of having to deal with one joint or so.”
He added, “And very soon we are going to be back in the parliament with legislation to deal with the cannabis industry generally, to deal with the cannabis for use in export and for use for health purposes. So, today is just one step in the process.”
The prime minister further indicated that people who have in the past been arrested for possession of small quantities of cannabis would be granted a reprieve.
“In fact, last week we passed a bill where we expunged from the records anybody who was convicted for small quantities of marijuana and also for COVID offences,” he said.
Looking ahead to affording minor offenders a ‘second chance’ to better their socio- economic prospects, PM Pierre declared: “We think that that was in a different era – a different time. Our system is overloaded and we are going to cause a halt to that right now, by ensuring that people do not get imprisoned for small quantities of marijuana.”