Gonsalves wants Ganja put on CARICOM's agenda

Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent and the Grenadines is urging the regional integration body, CARICOM, to quickly begin deliberations on the medical and health benefits of marijuana (commonly known as ganja in Jamaica).

In a letter, dated September 2,  to CARICOM's current Chairman, Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar of Trinidad and Tobago, cited the emerging debate in Jamaica on the subject and recent developments in the United States as reasons in favour of a wider regional discussion of the subject.

Accordingly, Dr. Gonsalves wants the subject to be on the agenda for the next meeting of the Bureau of CARICOM Heads, "tentatively" scheduled for September 17, followed by further deliberations at the next Inter-Sessional Conference of Heads in February, 2014.

The main points raised by Dr. Gonsalves in his letter to Mrs. Persad Bissassar are reproduced below:

I note that in recent weeks a debate on the possibilities of medical marijuana as ann economic and commercial industry has been unfolding in Jamaica, and, to a lesser extent, in some other member-states of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). Distinguished and reflective Caribbean professionals, including the Jamaican chemist and cancer researcher, Dr.  Henry Lowe, have been raising their influential voices in favour of the legitimate utilization of marijuana products for a range of medical/health purposes.

I think it is high time that CARICOM address, regionally, this matter in a sensible, focused and potentially beneficial uses. It is true that its misuse and abuse, and the consequential criminalization of the cultivation, possession and supply, have impacted on our people’s health, welfare and security.

I make my plea for reasoned debate, led by CARICOM’s political and civic leadership in the context of the legalization of marijuana for medical/health purposes in twenty states in the Unites States of America. It is already a huge industry with legitimate cultivation, research, production and distribution of pharmaceutical and cosmetic products. The longer we wait to give serious regional consideration to this subject, the further behind we would lag in the inevitable legitimization of medical marijuana, globally. In the end, our Caribbean would consume the medical/health, cosmetic and other products derived from marijuana, legally grown and produced, in the USA.

Accordingly, I consider that this matter ought to be preliminarily explored at the next meeting of “the Bureau of CARICOM Heads” scheduled tentatively for September 17, 2013, in Port of Spain. Preparatory work can then possibly be done so as to place the matter on the agenda of “the Inter-Sessional Conference of heads” in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in February 2014 for consideration.

There is, too, the wider debate on the overall policy on marijuana in which the political and civic leadership in CARICOM member-states ought to be urgently engaged. While the Organisation  of American States (OAS), in which CARICOM member-states constitute nearly one-half of the membership, seeks to break new exploratory ground in alternative policy perspectives, we in CARICOM continue to emphasise the security and penal dimensions of marijuana’s misuse and abuse rather than the educational and health aspects.

I have been advised that over a decade or so ago, the Prime Minister of St. Lucia, Dr. Kenny Anthony, called for a CARICOM Commission on Marijuana. This call fell on deaf ears. Perhaps, this initiative ought to be elaborated and accordingly further reflection, without prejudice to my own request on medical marijuana.

The general public, including a huge swath of our thoughtful young people, are broadly disappointed with the failure and/or refusal of the political and civic leadership in CARICOM to jettison its unnecessary caution and lethargy in addressing some of the controversial,  contemporary issues of real import. We must not be afraid in putting them under the searching light of informed discussion, on the front-burner, with visible political leadership.

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