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Support grows for Marijuana Commission

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Two influential, New York-based drug policy groups have supported the Caribbean Community’s (CARICOM) decision to establish a Regional Marijuana Commission.

“It’s great that governments in the Caribbean are finally pushing forward with this dialogue,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which claims that it is America’s leading organization that promotes drug policies that are “grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights.”

“With so much momentum for reform in both North and South America, it is crucially important that the Caribbean not be left on the sidelines,” Nadelmann told Caribbean Life on Monday.

He said the DPA is actively involved in the legislative process and seeks to roll back the excesses of the drug war, block new, harmful initiatives, and promote sensible drug policy reforms.

“We at the Institute of the Black World also pledge our support to this CARICOM initiative, recognizing that it is a logical and enlightened move towards decriminalizing the possession and use of small amounts of marijuana and an important step towards researching the economic potential of a regulated medical marijuana industry in the Caribbean,” Don Rojas, the Vincentian-born director of communications at the Institute of the Black World 21st Century (IBW), also told Caribbean Life on Monday.

He said the IBW, which works on drug policy and criminal justice reform, is a leading black research, policy and advocacy organization in the U.S., with operations in Washington, D.C.; Baltimore, MD; Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, PA; and Haiti.

“We are committed to enhancing the capacity of Black communities in the U.S. and globally to achieve cultural, social, economic and political equality, and an enhanced quality of life for all marginalized people,” Rojas said.

At their semi-annual summit of heads of government, which concluded in Antigua last Friday, CARICOM leaders agreed to establish the Commission on Marijuana.

This commission will “conduct a rigorous enquiry into the social, economic, health and legal issues surrounding marijuana use in the region and to advise whether there should be a change in the current drug classification of marijuana, thereby making the drug more accessible for a range of users,” according to the communiqué at the end of the summit.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Prime Minister Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves, who had initiated debate on the marijuana issue for some time, had indicated, prior to attending the summit, that while he would not prejudge the work of the commission, it would most likely consider changes to marijuana legislations in countries around the world, including Jamaica, the United States, Sweden and Uruguay.

“It seems to me counterproductive to ignore the potential of an industry in respect of medical marijuana and to continue to expend police, national security, court resources on persons who consume a minuscule amount of marijuana in the privacy of their homes,” said Gonsalves, who was instrumental in getting the issue on the agenda during his chairmanship of CARICOM. His tenure preceded that of current chair, newly-elected Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne.

DPA noted that, in recent years, debate and political will for drug policy reform have “gained unprecedented global momentum.”

It said that, in 2011, former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan joined former presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso, of Brazil, César Gaviria, of Colombia, and Ernesto Zedillo, of Mexico, and other distinguished members of the Global Commission on Drug Policy in saying that the time had come to “break the taboo on exploring alternatives to the failed war on drugs and to encourage experimentation by governments with models of legal regulation of drugs, especially marijuana.”

Last year, Uruguay followed on the heels of the U.S. states of Colorado and Washington in becoming the first country to legally regulate marijuana for recreational purposes.

In June, the West Africa Commission on Drugs, initiated by Annan and chaired by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasango, called for drug decriminalization and for treating drug use as a health issue, DPA also noted.

This was followed by an announcement by the Jamaican Minister of Justice that the Jamaican Cabinet had approved a proposal to decriminalize the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana and the decriminalization of marijuana use for religious, scientific and medical purposes.

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