One of the largest religious organizations in Barbados is condemning today’s announcement by the Ministry of Health that it was examining the possibility of using marijuana for medical purposes.
The 7,600-strong Pentecostal Assemblies of the West Indies (PAWI) suggested that it was a way to legalize ganja through the back door.
Senior Medical Officer Dr Kenneth George told a conference on palliative care at Hilton Barbados Resort this morning that the ministry was compiling “evidence” for use of the drug as a remedy against pain for patients suffering from chronic diseases and cancer.
“The Ministry of Health is currently gathering evidence with respect to marijuana use in well-defined clinical situations that will include assisting persons in pain management, including cancer and chronic degenerated diseases,” Dr George revealed.
This has not gone down well with the PAWI leader Bishop Gerry Seale, who warned that marijuana and alcohol were already causing enough problems among the youth.
Seale advised the authorities to find other ways to treat patients suffering from those ailments.
“The Pentecostal Assemblies of the West Indies is uncomfortable with legalizing marijuana because of the difficulties that we have had in working with men and women coming out of the drug culture who have seriously abused the substance. We would prefer if there was a different medicine available to treat the same ailment,” Seale told Barbados TODAY this afternoon.
The PAWI leader, head of the denomination with 26 assemblies across Barbados, was also worried about the likely negative ripple effects that the introduction of medical marijuana could have on the society.
“What we have witnessed in other jurisdictions is that first it is legalized for medicinal purposes, then it’s legalized for small recreational uses, then the abuse seems to mushroom. We are still in the early stages [compared to] some places where it has been legalized.
“We already have our hands full with the abuse of alcohol as a legal chemical. I’m not sure if our health services are able to cope with the abuse of another chemical, and that’s where a lot of our concern lies,” he cautioned.
It was only yesterday that Prime Minister Freundel Stuart reached out to the Church for divine intervention as his Government struggles to combat the “nefarious” illegal drug and firearms trade, which he said was presently “haunting” the country.
Addressing the opening of a national consultation put on by the Anglican Diocese of Barbados under the theme Restoring Our Barbadian Family, he said “a number of challenges should concern us all” since they threaten the very safety and security of the Barbadian family.
“First of all there is the scourge of violence in the society,” Stuart said.
“This violence is, generally speaking nowadays is gun violence and related to that violence is the nefarious drug trade,” he added.
Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite has repeatedly said he was neither for nor against legalization of marijuana, but he wanted the right decision made in the interest of Barbadians.
In May, Government Senator Jeptor Ince criticized the University of the West Indies for failing to lead the regional efforts on the research of marijuana for medicinal purposes.
“We have this talent at the UWI and we should have been at the forefront of marijuana uses for diseases, for medical purposes. We should have been at the forefront,” Ince told the Senate during the debate on the Caribbean Accreditation Authority for Education in Medicine and Other Health Professions (Incorporation) Bill, 2016.
Ince, the parliamentary secretary in the Ministry of Finance, told legislators at the time he was disappointed at the position of the UWI and warned that the Caribbean was at risk of being left behind if the regional educational institution continued to focus on some of the traditional subjects it offered.
In response, Principal of the UWI Cave Hill Campus Professor Eudine Barriteau had called on the Freundel Stuart administration to introduce the necessary legislation to allow the institution to conduct research into marijuana.
Barriteau stated then that the Cave Hill Campus “has been investigating the medicinal value of Barbadian plants”.
“I must and need to inform the public before our colleagues at Cave Hill can conduct research on marijuana, the Government of Barbados would need to create the enabling environment by producing the legislative framework to do so,” she said at the time.
In May, the Office of the Attorney General commissioned a study on public opinion on the possible decriminalization of marijuana as part of a wider study by the National Task Force on Crime Prevention.
That study found almost half the Barbadian population had tried marijuana, one in four smoke it regularly, and 30 per cent supported its legalization for medical or religious purposes.