Medical marijuana debate no election gimmick – Gonsalves

Gonsalves, who is chairing the two-day CARICOM inter-sessional summit that began on Monday, said also that his push for the region to debate the decriminalization of the drug for medicinal purposes was not an election ploy.

Gonsalves told Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) that the Guyana-based CARICOM Secretariat is scheduled to present a report to the leaders on the issue.

The report will include suggested and alteration in the existing law which address proscription for social and religious uses.

“But I am hoping that we take more than baby steps in addressing the issues,” he said.

Gonsalves said that in the case of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, although marijuana has in the past provided a livelihood for a number of persons, particularly “forest users”, the contribution to the economy, in his assessment, has not been significant.

He said a significant contribution rises to the level of banana industry during its heyday as the main sector of the economy, tourism or remittances, which represent seven per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP).

He said that marijuana has no doubt contributed “here or there” to individual persons or communities in lifting themselves out of poverty and indigence.

“On my side, we haven’t seen a significant contribution of this plant,” he said adding that given what is taking place globally, and particularly in the United States where 20 states have decriminalised marijuana for medical purposes, he will like to see CARICOM move in that direction.

“Certainly, there is a case to be made to liberalize the existing harsh laws, particularly for small quantities for personal or religious uses,” he said, noting that there are possibilities in the discourse that is taking places but there are challenges, which remain.

He said the federal government in the United States, “which cannot be taken for granted”, still holds the line in accordance with the United Nation’s convention on psychotropic substances — that they should not be legalised.

“So, all those are questions which will have to be addressed on an on-going basis,” he said, noting that Colorado made two million US dollars in revenue from the sale of medical marijuana.

“It’s an idea, the time of which has come,” Gonsalves said.

Asked to respond to his critics who say that the medical marijuana discussion that Gonsalves asked last year be placed on the agenda of CARICOM, he replied “I am almost two years away from an elections. In any event, good policy is good politics.

“If I didn’t do it, the story would be I am afraid to do it because it ain’t good politics. The point is this, I meant I am having this conversation and wanting this mature conversation because I think it is a serious subject for discussion.

“We cannot continue, frankly with the drug policies that we have had over the years. I am not talking about legalizing marijuana. The discussion is about decriminalization in respect of medical marijuana, and very small quantities regarding use for social and religious purposes, but not to be made available for anyone under the age of 18.”

Asked if his government would follow Jamaica’s lead and move towards medical marijuana regardless of CARICOM’s position, Gonsalves said ““Jamaica is a population of nearly three million and they may feel that they can move even though there is not any final agreement within CARICOM.

“But I am hoping that coming out of here we wouldn’t have baby steps, that there would be some steps going forward,” acknowledging that a poll done here last year showed nationals were split down the middle on the medical marijuana issue.

Gonsalves said that while he does not know what will be the final decision of CARICOM, he believes there should be “a sensible mature discussion devoid of any hysteria” about medical marijuana.

He said that 10 years ago it wasn’t possible to begin such a conversation.

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