Not another regional commission!
But then again, we may just be too late. The first decision to arise out of this week’s CARICOM Heads of Government Summit in Antigua is exactly that: The leaders have agreed to the need for a regional commission to study the issue of marijuana use and to report, in at least another year’s time, on the social, economic, health and legal issues surrounding use of the drug.
As incredulous as it all seems, we have to trust the veracity of the message based on the high level status of the messenger.
It couldn’t be that Ambassador Irwin LaRocque was simply blowing hot air when he told reporters last night at the Sandals Grande Antigua Resort and Spa in St John’s, where the meeting is taking place, that the Heads had also approved the terms of reference for the commission.
However, the CARICOM Secretary General couldn’t say exactly how that body would be structured, who would make it up or when it would actually get down to work. What he did say, though, was that those who sit on the commission would be “experts in their particular fields” and that the process would be one of “rigorous inquiry” and “extensive consultation” within the community.
“The commission will determine what recommendations to make based on objective analysis and consultations within the Community. It is not a predetermined end. It is to conduct a rigorous inquiry into the circumstances of the use and the implications for the use of marijuana in the Community,” the Secretary General reported.
But wait a minute Mr LaRocque. Hasn’t this issue been on the CARICOM agenda for more than a decade now? Didn’t Dr Kenny Anthony make the initial call for the setting up of a CARICOM Commission on Marijuana in his last incarnation as Prime Minister of St Lucia?
That it was ignored so long and appeared to have fallen on deaf ears would suggest that it really was not seen as necessary.
And we are minded to agree.
Do we really need any more objective analysis and consultation to take a position one way or another on the legalisation of marijuana in this region?
Hasn’t Jamaica just come out of a similar process of national consultation that led it to its position to decriminalise small quantities of the drug for personal use?
Can’t we utilise their studies or, at the very least, learn anything from their experience in arriving at a reasoned judgement?
Serious though, how many more commissions do we really need to have? Or is this just another tactic to avoid regional implementation and CARICOM decision making?
In Jamaica, the matter has been so widely ventilated that, even from this distance, we can easily have access to the point of view of researchers such as the noted chemist and cancer researcher Dr. Henry Lowe, who has been among the influential voices in favour of “the legitimate utilisation of marijuana products for a range of medical and health purposes”.
Then there is the other side of the argument, where you are likely to run into the perspectives such as that of medical practitioner Dr Dayton Campbell, who is also a government legislator, who has warned that high doses of marijuana can produce a temporary psychotic reaction (involving hallucinations and paranoia) in some users, and using marijuana can worsen the course of illness in patients with schizophrenia.
Even beyond Jamaica, this issue has been so widely discussed that the position of Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines is pullucidly clear as a pro-legalisation advocate, for only on the basis of medicinal and health benefits.
Here in Barbados, we also know only too well the reluctant position of our government and people to follow either Gonsalves’ argument or Jamaica’s lead on the issue.
Indeed, our Attorney General is insistent that this country will not jump on the bandwagon of marijuana legalisation.
In support of both sides of the debate, there are countless global studies, including those published in reputable medical and other journals in the United States, Canada and Britain, showing the pros and cons of either argument.
It is high time that we stop pussyfooting and put this matter to a regional vote, else our people would be right in reaching the conclusion that our leaders are simply blowing smoke again on this issue.