Cannabis possession and the smoking thereof in public places were the two main issues addressed in The Drug (Prevention and Misuse) Amendment Bill 2019 as presented by Prime Minister and Minister of National Security, Dr. The Hon. Ralph Gonsalves in parliament recently.
In the morning session of the House of Assembly on Thursday, July 25th, 2019, Prime Minister Gonsalves presented the Bill to the House and outlined the reasons for the amendments. He stated that they follow the setting up of the Medicinal Cannabis Authority in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and amnesty for cannabis farmers. The House also heard debate from the Leader of the Opposition, Dr. The Hon. Godwin Friday, on the amendments.
To this end, Prime Minister Gonsalves said “One has to frame the question of possession of small quantities and smoking in public places in a very creative way, in particular, taking into account our own circumstances in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and also the international law – the international conventions on narcotics – 1961 and subsequent international legal provisions”.
Accordingly, Dr. Gonsalves indicated that persons will not be charged for possession of 56 g/2 ounces of cannabis or less. Previously, persons caught with even smaller amounts of cannabis were criminally charged, the Minister with responsibility for National Security said. Those who have suffered, “we owe them an apology”; this matter should have been dealt with before, Dr. Gonsalves stated. However if persons are found in contravention of the law, they will be fined $80, the minimum amount. “If you don’t pay, the ticket will be used to summons you to court”, Prime Minister explained. If the matter reaches before the magistrate court, the maximum fine is $500, Dr. Gonsalves said.
The Minister of National Security addressed a misconception about what constitutes illegal cannabis possession. He sent a word of caution to police officers as it relates to making arrests and pressing charges for cannabis possession, specifically, seed possession. Dr. Gonsalves disclosed that the law does not address seed possession and any associated charges; that persons are allowed to have seeds.
With regards to smoking cannabis in a public place, the Minister of National Security said that there will be designated places for persons to smoke. He emphasised that smoking will be prohibited at school related and/or sporting events. Prime Minister Gonsalves made it clear that a home is a private place and that persons can smoke cannabis in their homes without interference from the police. He noted that Rastafarians and Hindus use cannabis for sacramental purposes and this is permissible.
The Drug (Prevention and Misuse) Amendment Bill 2019 also takes into consideration health concerns so that a national health campaign will be launched to inform the public about the use and misuse of cannabis. Prime Minister Gonsalves emphasised that Police Officers should point out resources for help to anyone who is arrested for possession or other related cannabis charges. Resources include counselling and rehabilitation for such persons. He said he has already spoken to the Minister of Health, Wellness and the Environment on the matter and that plans are in place to launch the national health campaign.
The Leader of the Opposition, Dr. The Hon. Godwin Friday, in his debate on The Drug (Prevention and Misuse) Amendment Bill 2019, disclosed that he was happy that the process to implement medical marijuana is on the way. Dr. Friday said he accepted the science, cultural and social conditions that “move us towards a non-punitive regime” towards small quantities of cannabis for recreational purposes. He noted that there are still traditional prejudices against cannabis although science has proven otherwise.
One concern Dr. Friday raised was access to cannabis if one cannot grow it, this he said, will create a problem. The Opposition Leader questioned where persons will get cannabis if they cannot grow it. He added that persons can be found guilty of breaching the said law which gives them permission to smoke cannabis. This, he said, must be addressed. Dr. Friday referred to other jurisdictions where persons are allowed to grow up to four cannabis plants for personal uses and advocated that such be adopted in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
At the adjournment of the morning session of the House of Assembly, both sides agreed that cannabis prohibition should continue for persons under age eighteen. The newly formed Medicinal Cannabis Authority (MCA) of St. Vincent and the Grenadines recently accepted and approved medicinal cannabis licences for several entities.