The Gaston Browne Cabinet will consider the recommendations emerging from a public consultation on the decriminalisation of small amounts of marijuana, including an increase in the quantity to be allowed.
A bill to amend the Misuse of Drugs Act to allow people to use up to 10 grammes privately was read in the parliament and sent to a select committee earlier this month for further consultations.
Tuesday’s event at the parliament attracted about 70 people, predominantly from the Rastafarian community, which utilises the herb in its religious ceremonies. One of the positions that garnered the most support was for an increase in the amount of the illicit substance an individual would be allowed to have without attracting a conviction. “For the Rasta man and the Rasta family, this is a joke. We drink it, we eat it, we make oils and other things from it. I applaud the effort but we’re looking to see much more done.
“I still think the government needs to at least match the Jamaica bill. Anything less, we see as not acceptable. In Jamaica you’re allowed two ounces and for every working person in a household you’re allowed to grow five trees,” Kiyode Erasto Straker of the Ras Freeman community declared. It was a sentiment that was also shared by Franklyn “Frank-I” Francis who stated that even before the 10:30 a.m. start of the consultation he had already consumed more than 10 grammes. “My three or four brethren for the morning already, and myself, we have consumed more than that in our tea, in our commune with our creator, and in our morning communes.”
Francis also dismissed as premature the move to set a limit and then come and consult. He also called for consideration on the commercial and industrial application of the hemp plant as a means of economic benefit for the country. Francis argued that limiting the discussion to the bill was counterproductive, saying that the focus should be on the full re-legalisation of cannabis to undo the economic and political witch hunt to which it had been submitted for almost a century.
But Prime Minister Gaston Browne noted that Antigua and Barbuda had international obligations that would not allow it, as a small nation, to go that route at this time. “For those who may not understand the consequences of violating our treaty obligations, if we were to do so Antigua and Barbuda would be blacklisted, and it has significant economic and even social consequences for the country. “So we cannot take the bold decision that as a state we can stand alone and go against international treaties and to expose our country to sanctions.”
Browne noted that Canada has made a commitment toward full legalisation by July and he opined that this might present an opportunity for Antigua and Barbuda to follow. But not everyone in attendance was sold on the idea of decriminalisation or legalisation. According to Bishop Cottam, “If God had wanted us to smoke he would have built a chimney in our heads to make provision for the smoke to go out.” His comment failed to elicit laughter from the room.
The religious leader also stated that the chemicals within cannabis could affect unborn children when used by their pregnant women. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “researchers don’t know a lot about what the effects might be, and while the research is in progress, most experts advise pregnant women not to use marijuana.”