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Government will move to make cannabis legal for medicinal and scientific purposes, after accepting 13 unanimous recommendations from a commission set up to consult with the public on the wide-ranging issues surrounding marijuana use.
And while there has been no agreement on the use of the substance for religious or recreational purposes, those caught with a small amount of it will no longer be jailed.
Prime Minister Dr Timothy Harris told the National Assembly that Cabinet accepted the suggestions put forward by the National Marijuana Commission after deliberating on its report and engaging with Commissioners earlier this week.
The Commission recommended that the blanket criminalization of cannabis and the definitions related to the substance, under the Drugs Act, be amended; and that the use of cannabis and its derivatives for medicinal and scientific purposes be permitted under licence and a strict legislated regime.
“The regime for the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes should include the following: a. The establishment of a medicinal licensing authority to regulate importation, local cultivation and production. b. A requirement that two tiers of practitioners must complete a requisite amount of Continuous Medical Education (CME) hours on cannabis (i) medical practitioners for prescribable marijuana products; and (ii) herbalists for nonprescribable marijuana products. c. A requirement that prescribable marijuana products must meet international labeling standards. d. The inclusion of other components should be allowed only under advice from experts in the industry,” it stated.
Another recommendation was that the penalty for possession of less than 15 grammes of cannabis and the growth of less than five plants per household should be reduced to a ticketable offence without a criminal record.
Additionally, smoking and use of cannabis in public places should remain a criminal offence and attract substantial penalties; offences of and penalties for driving under the influence of cannabis should be introduced; the current regime for the rehabilitation of offenders should be amended to permit the court to expunge the criminal records of persons convicted of possession of cannabis in quantities below the specified amounts; and healthcare services for the treatment of substance abuse should be substantially upgraded.
According to the Commission, a massive public messaging programme should be created prior to any changes in the law and continuing thereafter, informing the public of the benefits, risks and the potential harm to young people regarding the use of cannabis.
Prime Minister Harris also disclosed that Cabinet has determined that the use and possession of, and sale to persons under the age of 18 should be strictly prohibited.
He said the acceptance of the recommendations put forward by the National Cannabis Commission means there will be some fundamental changes to existing laws, “which the Cabinet will have to consider carefully and consult further on”.
Harris noted that the Commission could not agree that cannabis should be legalized for religious or recreational purposes.
“The Cabinet considers, therefore, that a phased approach is advisable, taking the unanimous recommendations of the Commission as first steps and thereafter considering the other areas on which unanimity could not be achieved would be the prudent approach to take,” he said.
“What this then means is that the Cabinet will consider and consult further on creating the framework for the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes and for the development of the medical cannabis industry in St Kitts and Nevis.”
In the meantime, he said, the Attorney General will take to Parliament legislation to give effect to a new policy framework that would allow persons found with less than 15 grammes of cannabis or growing less than five plants to be subject to tickets only, and for those jailed for those small amounts to have their sentences reviewed.
However, the Prime Minister stressed, “the use of cannabis in public places will continue to be a serious offence and we will seek also to prohibit the sale or use of cannabis by persons under the age of 18 years old.”