An arrested Rasta man seen inside a police van, surrounded by two police officers, following the annual marijuana march and rally organised by the Organisation of Rastafari in Unity held in August 2017. He was later released that night without being charged as the incident did not stem from anything criminal or violent on the Rasta man’s part (Spokesman Snap)

By: Precious Mills

BASSETERRE, St.Kitts (Friday 22nd February 2019) – The legalisation of marijuana for religious purposes as well as for recreational are two areas that all members of the National Cannabis Commission-headed by Dr. Hazel Laws- could not agree upon as part of the recommendations put forward to the government following its work phase which began some 15 months ago.

Prime Minister and Minister of National Security Dr. Timothy Harris during his presentation in Parliament on Wednesday 20th February, however, did outline thirteen (13) recommendations that commissioners have settled on which have been accepted for further consultation by Cabinet found at paragraph A of Chapter 11 of the report which includes topics such as medicinal and criminal record.

As understood, the Cabinet intends on first looking at the areas of undivided agreement by the commissioners before examining areas of mixed opinons.

“The Commission could not agree that cannabis should be legalised for religious purposes or that it should be legalised for recreational purposes. The Cabinet considers, therefore, that a phased approach is advisable, taking the unanimous recommendations of the Commission as first steps and thereafter considering the other areas on which unanimity could not be achieved would be the prudent approach to take,” PM Harris informed.

According to him, “the acceptance of these recommendations put forward unanimously by the National Cannabis Commission portends some fundamental changes to existing laws in St. Kitts and Nevis, which the Cabinet will have to consider carefully and consult further on.”

The agreed recommendations by the National Cannabis Commission are:

1. The blanket criminalization of cannabis as per the Drugs Act has been overtaken by passage of time and regional and international developments and should be amended.
2. The definitions in the Drugs Act relating to cannabis should be amended, having regard to scientific developments since the Act was passed in 1986.
3. The use of cannabis and its derivatives for medicinal and scientific purposes should be permitted under licence and a strict legislated regime.
4. The regime for the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes should include the following:
a. The establishment of a medicinal licensing authority to regulate importation, local cultivation and production.
b. A requirement that two tiers of practitioners must complete a requisite amount of Continuous Medical Education (CME) hours on cannabis (i) medical practitioners for prescribable marijuana products; and (ii) herbalists for non- prescribable marijuana products.
c. A requirement that prescribable marijuana products must meet international labeling standards.
d. The inclusion of other components should be allowed only under advice from experts in the industry.
5. Production and trade should be permitted under licence and a strict legislated regime of hemp and hemp products.
6. The penalty for possession of less than 15 grams of cannabis should be reduced to a ticketable offence without a criminal record.
7. The penalty for the growth of less than 5 plants per household should be reduced to a ticketable office without a criminal record.
8. The current regime for the rehabilitation of offenders should be amended to permit the Court to expunge the criminal records of persons convicted in the past of possession of cannabis in quantities below the amounts specified above.
9. Current healthcare services for the treatment of substance abuse should be substantially upgraded and increase the number of personnel trained in treatment and counseling of young persons and other vulnerable groups.
10. A massive public messaging programme should be created prior to any changes in the law and continuing thereafter informing the public of the benefits and risks and the potential harm to young persons regarding the use of cannabis.
11. The programme should be adapted for use in the school curriculum.
12. The smoking and use of cannabis in public places should remain a criminal offence and attract substantial penalties.
13. Offences and penalties of driving under the influence of cannabis should be introduced.

The National Security Minister talked about the welfare of individuals under the age of 18 saying: “In addition, the Cabinet has determined that the use and possession and sale to persons under the age of 18 years of cannabis should be strictly prohibited; we want to protect the children and so this would be consistent with the science that regular intake, particularly smoking of marijuana by young persons, is inimical to their neurological development.”