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Uruguay decision revives regional debate on legalising marijuana
Published on December 13, 2013 Email To Friend    Print Version

A cannabis (ganja) plant. Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service

By Caribbean News Now contributor

BASSETERRE, St Kitts -- Uruguay's recent decision to legalise the production, sale and consumption of marijuana has revived the debate in the Caribbean on the issue.

A spokesman for the Rastafarian community, Ras Kalonji, said he would like to see marijuana first decriminalized and then eventually legalized in St Kitts and Nevis.

“The Rastafarian community sees marijuana as a sacrament, and we would like them to decriminalize a certain amount before they actually legalize it,” he told WINN FM.

The police, who are on the front line in terms of the fight against illegal drugs, said such a decision would have to be made by the legislature.

Spokesman, Inspector Lyndon David, however, pointed to decisions in other countries that have had to be reversed.

“The health implications, because you know a number of these drugs they create psychological problems, and that is the main issue,” he explained.

“Many countries would have decriminalized, and some would have realized they had more challenges from a psychological perspective and had to put it back to where it was – to criminalize it,” the inspector said.

Although St Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Denzil Douglas has said he favours a national dialogue on the subject, he has also indicated that his administration is not keen on decriminalizing the drug.

Authorities in Uruguay said the move will result in more effective control of the drug.

However, the United Nations drug and crime agency said that the decision by the Uruguayan parliament is a strike against international cooperation.

The head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Yuri Fedotov said that confronting illicit drugs and their impact is dependent on pursuing a comprehensive response to the problem based on health, long-term security, development and institution-building.

“Just as illicit drugs are everyone’s shared responsibility, there is a need for each country to work closely together and to jointly agree on the way forward for dealing with this global challenge,” he said in a statement.

The move, which Fedotov termed “unfortunate”, comes ahead of a special session on the ongoing world drug problem, to be held at the UN General Assembly in 2016.

He noted that, next year, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs will hold a high-level review of member states’ implementation of the political declaration and plan of action on the world drug problem and said that would have been an opportunity for countries to pursue a coherent approach to drug trafficking.

Fedotov also said that UNODC agrees with the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), an independent and quasi-judicial monitoring body mandated to implement UN international drug control conventions, which earlier today said it “regrets” the decision by Montevideo.

In its statement, the Board said “…the legislation to legalize production, sale and consumption of cannabis for non-medical purposes approved yesterday in Uruguay contravenes the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, to which Uruguay is a party.”

INCB president Raymond Yans said he was “surprised” that policymakers “knowingly decided to break the universally agreed and internationally endorsed provisions of the treaty.”

The Vienna-based agency also noted that Uruguayan policymakers failed to consider the negative impacts on health which confirm that cannabis is an addictive substance with serious consequences and longer-term development applications.

In September, Trinidad and Tobago Chief Justice Archie called for the decriminalisation of the use of inconsequential amounts of marijuana.

Also in September, current Caribbean Community (CARICOM) chair and prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago Kamla Persad-Bissessar said that CARICOM leaders have agreed to engage each other on this topic and promised by February 2014 to make available research data on decriminalising the use of small amounts of marijuana.

Persad-Bissessar noted that several states in the US have legalized the use of marijuana and CARICOM will do its research and present their findings next year.

“With respect to the use of marijuana, about 16 states in the US have legalised the use. But we will have to do more research. The CARICOM Secretariat is tasked to do more research. The National Drug Council has been asked to prepare a paper for decision. We will have much more consultation and in February of next year research will be presented by the team,” she said.

St Vincent and the Grenadines prime minister Ralph Gonsalves said regional governments should consider decriminalising marijuana use. Gonsalves said it is not a bad idea to have discussions on legalising the use of small amounts of marijuana.

West Indies News Network contributed to this report
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