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EDITORIAL: More than change of laws for use of medicinal marijuana

mialisafenty, [email protected]

EDITORIAL: More than change of laws for use of medicinal marijuana

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ONE OF the more significant decisions taken at last week’s two-day meeting of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community was for the establishment of a regional commission to consider and report on the now expanding interest – beyond CARICOM – in decriminalising possession of small quantities of marijuana, whether for health or recreational purposes.
While welcoming this initiative by the Community’s governments, two points of relevance come to mind.
First, that their decision has followed widening initiatives in states of the United States to legalise consumption of the herb that is historically associated in our region with the Rastafarians.
Given a prevailing culture of mimicry of what’s embraced by the rich and powerful in foreign lands, in this case America in particular, it is not surprising that our governments have moved with comparative alacrity for the creation of a regional body of experts to come forward with relevant data-based guidelines and recommendations.
Secondly, the push for freedom in consumption of “medicinal marijuana” could become a fad to satisfy political constituents and fall prey to exploitative practices by traders and consumers.
In this case, governments may wish to also consider changes in existing harsh laws under which even young and first-time offenders are incarcerated in overcrowded prisons, some devoid of enlightened health treatment and social behaviour.
Clearly those CARICOM jurisdictions with laws that are quite punitive in dealing with first or second-time offenders found guilty of possessing small quantities of marijuana, need to engage in critical reassessments with a view to penal reform that could simultaneously address challenges of overcrowded prisons and enhance self-confidence of inmates with arrangements in place for their release back into society, hopefully for the better.
Ministers and senior officials responsible for matters pertaining to national security and prison services would be aware of some of the reports on penal reform and rehabilitation of prisoners that should be revisited.
The need to harmonise sentencing and penal reform policies within the Community has been repeatedly emphasised in reports and relevant literature long shared with governments by regional and international human rights organisations. Among these would be Amnesty International, the former Caribbean Human Rights network and Penal Reform International.
Therefore, now that CARICOM leaders have opted to establish a regional body to advise them on the way forward in dealing with the new initiative on decriminalising possession of small quantities of marijuana for medicinal and recreational purposes, they may wish to consider the related issues of common sentencing procedures and options that include treatment for offenders convicted for consuming marijuana.
We await developments.