BASSETERRE, St. Kitts - PRIME MINISTER of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves has written to the Chair of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Kamla Persad-Bissessar Q.C., the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, to ask that CARICOM address the possibility of legalising marijuana for medical purposes.
“I think that it is high time that CARICOM address, regionally, this matter in a sensible, focussed, non-hysterical manner. After all, the marijuana plant has a bundle of proven, and potentially, beneficial uses,” said Dr. Gonsalves to Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar, in a letter dated September 2, 2013.
“It is true that its misuse, and the consequential criminalisation of its cultivation, possession and supply, have impacted on our people’s health, welfare, and security,” he added.
The debate on the possibilities of medical marijuana has been gathering pace regionally and internationally and some member states of CARICOM have been weighing in on the issue of medical marijuana as an economic and commercial industry.
Not all CARICOM Leaders are jumping on the bandwagon for marijuana’s decriminalisation; instead, they are focusing more on its misuse and ill effects.
Recent comments publicly made by the Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis, the Rt. Hon. Dr. Denzil Douglas, on the decriminalisation of marijuana, have upset some members of society, especially some members of the Rastafarian community, who believe that “ganja” is an integral part of their religion.
However, the Prime Minister’s comments have appeased others, who think that marijuana smoking is detrimental to one’s physical, psychological and emotional well-being.
At a recent Passing Out Parade of 28 St. Kitts-Nevis Defence Force (SKNDF) soldiers, Dr. Douglas charged the soldiers, some of whom may smoke “weed” themselves, to be militant in their fight to exterminate the cultivation and sale of marijuana in St. Kitts and Nevis.
A medical doctor by profession, Dr. Douglas acknowledges that marijuana has medicinal benefits but quickly points out that he has seen marijuana cause serious mental illnesses in its users, leading to self-destruction.
He doesn’t seem in any hurry to decriminalise it.
Dr. Gonsalves said that CARICOM continues “to emphasise the security, and penal dimensions of marijuana’s misuse and abuse rather than the educational health aspects”.
He is making a plea for his colleagues in CARICOM to consider seriously the legalisation of marijuana for medical purposes.
“I make my plea for a reasoned debate led by CARICOM’s political and civic leadership in the context of the legalisation of marijuana for medical/health purposes in twenty (20) states in the United States of America. The USA is already a huge industry with legitimate cultivation, research, production and distribution of pharmaceutical and cosmetic products,” he said.
“The longer we wait to give serious regional consideration to this subject, the further behind we would lag in the inevitable legitimisation of medical marijuana, globally. In the end, our Caribbean would consume the medical/health, cosmetic, and other products derived from marijuana, legally grown and produced, in the USA,” Dr. Gonsalves added.
Dr. Gonsalves has asked the Chair of CARICOM to preliminarily explore the marijuana issue at the next meeting of CARICOM Heads scheduled tentatively for September 17, 2013 in Port of Spain, Trinidad.
Following that meeting, the matter would be further discussed and considered at the Inter-sessional Conference of Heads in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in February 2014.
“I have been advised that over a decade or so ago, the Prime Minister of St. Lucia, Dr. Kenny Anthony, called for a CARICOM Commission on marijuana. This call fell on deaf ears. Perhaps the initiative ought to be elaborated and accorded further reflection without prejudice to my own request on medical marijuana,” Dr. Gonsalves said.
The nation for which Dr. Gonsalves is Prime Minister, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, like other Windward Islands, has been known to be a producer of marijuana within the region.
In recent years, the St. Kitts-Nevis Coast Guard had intercepted and seized marijuana transported aboard shipping vessels from St. Vincent and the Grenadines that were bringing vegetables to the nation’s shores.
A neurosurgeon and CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, recently changed his anti-marijuana stance saying that he has come to support the legalisation of marijuana for medical purposes and has debunked claims that it has a high potential for abuse, and that there was no evidence that it led to the use of harder addictive drugs such as cocaine and heroin.
Support for the legalisation of marijuana products, primarily for medical/ health uses, has come from renowned Caribbean professionals including Dr. Henry Lowe, a distinguished Jamaican cancer researcher and chemist.
And in St. Kitts, popular social commentator, educator and historian Washington ‘Washie’ Archibald has been among the main agitators for the cultivation and use of marijuana to be legalised.
According to Archibald, marijuana “has a reputation – especially in Jamaica – that it could be used for medicinal purposes. People in Jamaica give their children marijuana to cure wheezing. I’ve known people who grew up in Jamaica who claim that their parents gave them weed or its by-product.
“Other people, those in St. Kitts, claim that the use of marijuana can cure or arrest the problem of glaucoma. They claim it is good for the eyes and they claim it is good for asthma. Doctors, I think, have agreed that the use of marijuana is a useful pain killer for chronic and painful diseases. People who suffer from those diseases use marijuana to kill the pain.”
Amidst this support for marijuana to be permitted for medical uses, research has also shown that marijuana used simply for recreational purposes can dull the minds of young people, interfering with the complex neurological and physiological changes that are characteristic of adolescence and young adulthood.