Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister Gaston Alphonso Browne has called for the legalization of small amounts of marijuana for personal use.
Associated Press / Jason DeCrow, file

Just as the regional commission on marijuana is in the Bahamas for public consultations this week, an influential Caribbean head of government is calling on governments to take cognizance of the global push to allow for possession of small amounts for personal use rather than fill jail houses with innocent youths across the region.

Gaston Browne of Antigua, likely to call general elections within a matter of weeks, came out swinging this week, suggesting that the time has come for Caricom governments to legalize and decriminalize small amounts for personal use.

“We should continue to follow the developments in Canada, in particular, which will legalize the use of marijuana come July 2018, and I believe there will be scope for CARICOM countries to follow Canada wholesale,” he said, noting that the region does not have to copy wholesale the laws in North America but could “take the aspects of laws and regulations that could apply to us here and help us to deal with what has been a very difficult issue.”

Four years ago, regional leaders established a commission on the positives of decriminalizing marijuana for personal and medicinal use but they are yet to make a final or collective decision on the way forward.

In the interim, the multi agency commission that leaders had appointed to guide them on this issue is continuing to organize and hold public consultations in member states with the Bahamas being the latest. Similar forums were held in Guyana and Suriname late last year.

But countries such as Jamaica and Belize are certainly not waiting on any collective decision. Both have moved separately to decriminalize. Jamaica allows for up to two ounces without criminal charges while Belize allow for possession of not more than 10 grams.

Just this week, Guyanese Attorney General Basil Williams ruled out Guyana joining Jamaica and Belize in freeing up possession of small amounts, pointing to a United Nations study which argues against such he said. Williams said that he recently noted a push in the United States to “retrieve the position on marijuana in the United States,” noting that Guyana is unlikely to follow nations which have modified their own stances on weed possession.

Browne argues that “jailing offenders has not worked and when you are doing something consistently and it does not work you fix it.” Criminal action against users only drives them underground and make it difficult for authorities to monitor.

He appealed to police officers not to go after personal users and appeared to signal that the local law could be amended if he wants another term.

“I want to signal to the members of the police force, in the interim, that they desist from incriminating individuals because the government has made its policy very clear. Even though the law has not been changed, they must at least respect the intent and to give those who use marijuana a break,” he stated.

Browne spoke on a recent radio program and many of those who called in were quick to dismiss his calls as a general election gimmick to win hearts and minds. They said they are also on the lookout for a reduction in gasoline prices and import taxes on electronic items, all to win votes.

The commission is mandated to enquire about the social, economic, health and legal issues linked to marijuana use in the region of 15 nations and as well, to recommend whether there should be a reclassification of marijuana as a narcotic. If so, it will be more accessible to people who need it for religious, personal, recreational, medical and research uses officials said.

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