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Marijuana laws too draconian—CARICOM Commission

Sunday, July 8, 2018
Prof Rose-Marie Belle Antoine Photo by:Abraham Diaz

The CARICOM Regional Commission on Marijuana has labelled existing regional marijuana laws as draconian and one which carries with it inappropriate criminal penalties.

Indicating its unanimous position for law reformation across the region, Commission Chair Prof Rose-Marie Belle Antoine yesterday said "the penalties were premised on the notion that marijuana or cannabis has no value.

"This is now misleading and inaccurate because the medical and scientific evidence is clear that marijuana has substantial value," Belle Antoine, the dean at the Faculty of Law at the University of the West Indies' St Augustine campus, said.

A recent World Health Organization (WHO) study found that a compound derived from marijuana called cannabidiol (CBD) had health benefits and should not be subject to government restrictions.

Belle Antoine said although marijuana "is not a panacea for everything, we are recommending a reclassification of it."

Cannabis, also known as marijuana among other names, is a psychoactive drug from the Cannabis plant intended for medical or recreational use.

Having presented the Commission's Report to the CARICOM Heads in Jamaica on Friday, Belle Antoine said other recommendations included, "a public health and rights approach instead of this criminal law approach where people are criminalised."

She said the Commission had also found the social justice issues to be more compelling.

"More so than this thing about medical marijuana, as thousands of people are being imprisoned especially the most vulnerable and most marginalised in the region," she said.

Belle Antoine said current laws were inequitable and discriminatory in that "The have's are not prosecuted or persecuted, whereas the have-not's are. Law enforcement have agreed with us on this."

Revealing that the Commission had conducted extensive research across the region and gathered input from persons in various spheres, Belle Antoine said some countries in the region were further ahead in terms of how they were addressing the marijuana situation in their respective territories.

Among those leading the way is Jamaica and Antigua.

The Commission on Marijuana was established by the decision of the 25th Inter-Sessional Meeting of CARICOM Heads of Government in March 2014 in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

'People should not be criminalised for marijuana'

Belle Antoine said the Commission had also retained an economist as part of its research team so they were able to provide accurate figures to the CARICOM heads.

Commended for its effort in compiling the comprehensive report, Belle Antoine said moving forward, it would be a challenge how to address the view by the International Convention that marijuana was still an illegal substance and that any profits would be considered illegal proceeds of crime, leading to money laundering investigations and banks refusing to engage with the respective client.

Claiming that CARICOM was in a strong position to lobby with partners who had moved ahead to legalise marijuana, Belle Antoine said the main focus remained that people should not be criminalised for marijuana.

Although there was a suggestion to remove prohibition generally, she said the Commission was clear when it came to children and young persons, "The evidence is clear that it affects young people, just like alcohol does, in very serious ways and we are not in favour of that."

Unable to say how soon the recommendations may be rolled out across the region, Belle Antoine said the CARICOM responses appeared to be in favour of law reform.

Nkechi after being fined $3,000 for possession

Nkechi Phillips, 27, knows all too well how the law views marijuana.

Phillips appeared before San Fernando Magistrate Alicia Chankar on Thursday charged with having two marijuana plants in her yard.

Phillips was eventually fined $3,000.

Speaking to the Sunday Guardian Phillips, a herbalist who follows the teachings of Dr Sebi, said the plants were for her own personal use.

"When the police came to my house they treated me like I was the worst kind of criminal. Two van loads of officers came and ransacked my house while my three children were crying," Phillips said.

Phillips said the police drove past two well-know drug blocks where cocaine is sold to harass her.

Phillips said she has known marijuana to help people suffering with asthma and bronchitis and other ailments.

She said she welcomed decriminalisation of it.

"People should be able to grow at least four plants in each household so that families can use it for its medicinal value," Phillips said.

Phillips said marijuana is a plant but the law made it illegal.

"Imagine one day the law makes oranges illegal, but we know what we know now which is that the fruit has medicinal values. What would we do stop using it and we know that it is a great source of vitamin C," she said.

Phillips called for a review of the current laws.


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