Marijuana: Addressing the issue of its legalisation
Posted in: Key Issues | 18 January 2017 | 810
Over the past few decades a growing number of countries have been advocating for the legalization of marijuana. Advocates for its legalization cite the medical and economic benefits, while those against, cite its potential hazardous implications for personal mental health and public health. In the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the debate has intensified in the past approximately four years, resulting in its placement on the agenda of the highest decision making forum, the Conference of Heads of Government.
Many, if not all, CARICOM countries are Party to, and model their local Dangerous Drugs legislations on the United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances. This Convention contains four Schedules of controlled substances, ranging from most restrictive (Schedule I) to the least restrictive (Schedule IV). Marijuana is currently placed on Schedule II, and classified as a dangerous drug for which possession of any quantity becomes an offence. The current marijuana debate stems from this classification – “the main being the burden on the legal and judicial system, arising from possession of small quantities of marijuana and the lack of its availability and accessibility for medical, recreational and research purposes”.
Scientific evidence that supports the medical benefits of cannabinoids (the chemical compounds derived from marijuana), also confirms the adverse effects of tetra hydrocannabinol (THC), which is the psychotropic or mind-altering constituent found in the plant. Re-classification of the drug would have to consider “whether the benefits to be derived from removal of current restrictions will outweigh possible harms of increased use”.
National and Regional governmental approaches
Many countries’ legislations do not currently allow for full legalisation under international law and national approaches to addressing this issue have resulted in various positions. For example, in the case of Jamaica, the Dangerous Drugs Act was amended in 2016 to create the framework for the decriminalization of offence under the Act, and to make it a ticketable offence to possess less than two ounces. It also created the framework for the development of legal medical marijuana, hemp and nutraceutical industries. While in the case of Antigua and Barbuda, its Cabinet agreed, in August 2016, to send a draft law to Parliament for its first reading. In other countries there have been widespread public information and communications initiatives driven by both government and civil society.
As a collective, the regional position is a call for careful in-depth research to inform decision-making. The following captures the major mandates by the Conference and some follow-up actions.
- In September 2013, at the 27th Meeting of the Bureau, in Trinidad and Tobago, Members discussed the use of Marijuana for medical/health purposes and requested the CARICOM Secretary-General to arrange for the conduct of the necessary desk research (on the medical and legislative aspects) and to prepare a paper to facilitate consideration of the issue.
- In March 2014, at its 25th Intersessional Meeting in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the Conference of Heads of Government considered the findings of the desk research, and mandated the establishment of a Regional Commission to address the issues identified and any other deemed relevant, in order to provide clear guidance to the Conference with regard to decisions to be taken.
In July 2014, at its 35th Regular Meeting in Antigua and Barbuda, the Conference of Heads Government “agreed to establish a Regional Commission on Marijuana to conduct a rigourous enquiry into the social, economic, health and legal issues surrounding marijuana use in the Region and to advise whether there should be a change in the current drug classification of marijuana, thereby making the drug more accessible to a range of users”.
- In March 2015, at its 26th Intersessional meeting, the Conference of Heads of Government “agreed on the composition of the Marijuana Commission which is expected begin its work soon to look into the social, economic, health and legal issues surrounding the use of marijuana and to consult with stakeholders to get views on the issue.
The Commission has been established 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 including religious, recreational, and medical and research”.
- In June 2016, the Regional Commission on Marijuana in collaboration with the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and with support from the CARICOM Secretariat, convened the 1st of a series of national consultations to ascertain the views, thoughts and experiences of the population. The consultation engaged a wide cross section of stakeholders including youth, faith-based organizations and non-governmental organizations and special interests groups. National consultations are expected to be convened in the other Member States.
In addition to national consultations, the Regional Commission will undertake extensive secondary research to inform the preparation of reports to be submitted to the CARICOM Heads of Government for its consideration.
17 January 2017
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