While public opinion is growing in favour of ending marijuana prohibition across the Caribbean, there is much “unfinished business” as regional lawmakers consider the implications of the move, according to a new opinion poll.
Details of a survey conducted in six nations by regional polling organisation Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES) were revealed at a community discussion held on The Removal of Prohibitions on Marijuana as the University of West Indies continues its 70th birthday celebrations.
CADRES pollster Corey Sandiford said the survey was carried out over a two-year period up to last July in St Kitts and Nevis, Guyana, Antigua, Dominica, St Lucia and Barbados.
On average, about one in three respondents supports partial legalization, he said. Support for full legalization ran as high as 84 per cent in St Kitts and 51 per cent in St Lucia, he adding, noting the highest support for continuing to ban the herb was highest in St Lucia at 38 per cent.
Barbadians seem to have a change of heart on decriminalization, moving from 23 per cent support to 45 per cent in favour of decriminalization, rising to majority support – 52 per cent – by last year.
The community meeting also discussed the issue of medical marijuana by considering a variety of routes taken in other countries. Researcher Dr Damian Cohall, a senior lecturer in Pharmacology at UWI, and Dr. Alana Griffith recently published a paper on the issue of medical marijuana, which he said experts defined as “unprocessed cannabis plants or derivatives of such that can be used for treatments of symptoms for certain medical conditions. It differs from recreational use, which often carries paradigms associated with abuse”.
Dr Cohall suggested considering how Canada approached the introduction of cannabis for medical use.
The model, he said, “allows for three basic important elements. First, prescribed patients must get access to the drug for medical purposes, secondly it must be a safe and a quality-controlled product that comes from people authorized to trade in it, and it must be for the patient’s personal use only”.
The UWI has suggested rolling out phase decriminalization.
“In Phase 1, we should make cannabinoid agents approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other bodies accessible within our current national formulary.
Phase two should look at facilitating the importation of medical cannabis products, which will be seen as bio-equivalents, and in the last phase, we must regulate the cultivation industry, which is a complex element owing to the risks associated with abuse, trafficking and self-medication.”
Speaking to the risks associated with widescale marijuana cultivation from a banking perspective, Director of Strategy with CIBC FirstCaribbean International Bank, David Small, pointed to the link between the drug remaining outlawed under US federal law and US anti-money laundering legislation that seeks to defund drug dealers.
“We must bear in mind that while some of the states in the USA have legalized marijuana for both medicinal and recreational use, it is still illegal under Federal law since not every state has done so. Now given that American banks operate under federal law, they would risk billions of dollars in fines if they are associated with banks in other countries who deal with money generated from the drug trade,” the banker said.
Offering an “expert” perspective on marijuana as religious ritual, devout Rastafarian and calypsonian Peter “Adonijah” Alleyne, speaking on behalf of the Ichirouganaim Council for the Advancement of Rastafari (ICAR) called for total legalization of the drug, saying that “without legalization, it will become impossible to do any real research to explore all possibilities of the plant”, he said.
The veteran journalist also suggested a dramatic transformation of the country’s economic fortunes would be a by-product of decriminalising the herb.
“If we legalize it, within five years you will see a significant turnaround in our economy, in all sectors including manufacturing. Our Sea Island Cotton is considered one of the best in the world, but imagine the quality of the garments we could make combining Sea Island Cotton with hemp from the cannabis plant,” he told the gathering.
Alleyne also called for an immediate end to arrests of marijuana users while the process towards legalization takes it course. “While the country is saying, ‘let us examine it and see what the benefits are’, at the same time people are going to jail every day for the same plant. That makes no sense to me, so we are calling for a moratorium on arrests for it, expunging the records of those who have been convicted for its use, and release of those who are serving time on cannabis related offences. S
“Since it is a sacrament for Rastafari, in Jamaica and in St Vincent, there is special accommodation made for its use for religious purposes. Rastafari are the experts on cannabis, so we should be fully involved in any discussions on its legalization, and not just in a token way,” he emphasized.