St Kitts – Nevis review of Cannabis laws reflect changing view

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BASSETERRE, St Kitts –  The government of St Kitts and Nevis took another major step towards the relaxation of the laws as it relates to the use of marijuana/cannabis for medicinal and scientific, religious and recreational purposes in the Federation with the moving of legislative amendments to the Drugs (Prevention and Abatement of the Misuse and Abuse of Drugs) (Amendment) Bill, 2019.

The legislative amendments were introduced to the National Assembly on Tuesday, July 30, 2019, by Prime Minister and Minister of National Security, Dr Timothy Harris, who also led the debate on the matter in the House of Assembly. 

Government ministers pictured with the Chair of the Cannabis Core Committee, Dr Wycliffe Baird (center) in the National Assembly Chambers at Government Headquarters

After a little more than a day of insightful presentations, the Drugs (Prevention and Abatement of the Misuse and Abuse of Drugs) (Amendment) Bill, 2019, had its third reading and was successfully passed in the National Assembly, Wednesday, July 31, 2019.

Prime Minister Harris stated that the 20th century views regarding drug use and misuse are no longer in vogue with the 21st century St Kitts and Nevis and in the changing Caribbean region, “and that is why we have the debate come to the floor again regarding the matter of cannabis, its role in society and what should be an appropriate legislative framework.”

“On these thorny issues where beliefs have been conditioned over time and practices and attitudes long engrained there will be clashes and every society, including St Kitts and Nevis, must carefully and progressively find its own pathway for determining the expressed will of the majority of its citizens and inhabitants without being oppressive to the minority. In other words, how do we maintain a constructive cohesiveness in our country,” the prime minister said.

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Dr Harris went on to state that the evolution of science, medicine and the liberalization of values have impacted significantly on the prevailing views regarding cannabis use and misuse, noting that the case has been made and accepted in several international treaties to which St Kitts and Nevis is signatory of health benefits, particularly to relieve pain and restore wellness of persons.

Dr Harris also pointed to the changing views as it relates to the right to practice one’s religion referencing, the High Court recently ruled that some prohibitions on cannabis use outlined in the Drugs (Prevention and Abatement of the Misuse and Abuse of Drugs) Act, Cap 9.08, were too broad and inconsistent with the Constitution.

“As a responsible government, steeped in good governance, highly regarded as the best performer on the Rule of Law Index for 2019 we come basically to make right what the court has determined to have been awry with the constitutional rights of our citizens. We come, by and large, to amend the legislation and when we would have passed this amended legislation it will be true to say that St Kitts and Nevis would have gone further than any other country in recent times in advancing the rights of our people with regard to the use of cannabis.”

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The legislative amendments to the Drugs (Prevention and Abatement of the Misuse and Abuse of Drugs) (Amendment) Bill, 2019 is just one element in what will be the most far-reaching response to Cannabis use and misuse in St Kitts and Nevis.

The Parent Act, the Cannabis Bill, 2019, had its first reading in the National Assembly Thursday, May 9, 2019, and according to Dr Harris when; “this bill is debated and passed through all readings, it will ensure that St Kitts and Nevis has the most progressive federal legislation on cannabis use in the world.”

At the close of the debate Wednesday, July 31, 2019, Dr Harris stated that the government is attempting to significantly transform the landscape within which cannabis/marijuana is being decriminalized.

“We will, through our legislative enactments, rehabilitate the lives of hundreds of our young people by expunging their records where such a record was a consequence of punishment sentenced on them for being in breach of the laws on cultivation and possession of marijuana. For some of them, the rehabilitation of their records will represent a genuine fresh start. A fresh start to a new job. A fresh start to new opportunities. A fresh start to a US visa. A fresh start to be a better example to a daughter, to a son, to a family member and a friend. A fresh start to becoming a new creation and a brand-new man or young woman,” he said.

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