Attorney General Dale Marshall has renewed Government’s promise that a referendum will determine if this country legalises marijuana use.
He gave this assurance on Friday as he dismissed suggestions that the Drug Abuse Prevention and Control (Amendment) Bill was a step towards the legalisation of cannabis in Barbados.
The amendments make provision for a fixed $200 fine to be paid within 30 days for persons found in possession of 14 grams or less of cannabis.
It also provides for individuals to be referred to the National Council on Substance Abuse (NCSA) for assessment and counselling.
“The time for a referendum will come. There are people who have said that this administration, by passing the medicinal cannabis legislation, followed by the sacramental use of cannabis legislation and now followed by this, is inching its way ever so surreptitiously, to legalising it. Nothing can be further from the truth,” said Marshall.
Pointing to the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) manifesto, he said the party was “holding fast” to its commitment to consult the people on this issue.
“But we recognise that there are other matters that are important.
“It is important for the state to provide economic opportunity and enfranchisement and medicinal cannabis is a well-respected and precious opportunity and we are not at all embarrassed that we are going in that direction. We have consultation on it,” said Marshall.
He explained that the decision to not convict an individual for a small quantity of cannabis and impose a fine instead only seemed like the next natural step for Barbados.
“In a sense, what we are doing here today is a natural consequence of what has been the prevailing position in Barbados for the last decade,” he said.
He said while it was not a matter of looking for a cheaper way, Marshall said that by putting a penalty system in place for the possession of 14 grams or less of cannabis it would help save time and money, and it was simply “a better way”.
“In my view, money spent by an administration on trying to counsel a young man or woman who started out on the road of drug use is money that is much better spent than the cost of dragging them through the judicial system. It is about cost and benefits, but it is also about our values,” said Marshall.
“A person found in possession of a $5 cannabis cigarette is taking up police time who has to write a statement and go to court and give evidence. Then you are taking up the magistrate’s time, then the lawyer that the family has to pay; then the psychological impact on the young woman or young man because they have a criminal record, because there is a cost to that too, and there is a cost to keeping that person out of the system. But the offending material was worth $5.
“What is the cost benefit analysis? One avenue is to take that person through the drug treatment court, yes. That is not moving and we support it, but as an administration, we recognised that criminalising our young men and women for the possession of small amounts of cannabis is not necessarily the best approach,” explained Marshall.
The attorney general said he simply did not want Barbadians to be “criminalised for something that we could otherwise treat them for”, insisting that “criminalising cannabis use is not necessarily the solution for us”. (MM)