BASSETERRE, St. Kitts, Feb 21, CMC – The St. Kitts-Nevis government says it will consider and consult further on creating the framework for the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes after a national commission submitted a number of recommendations surrounding the use of the drug in the twin-island Federation.
Prime Minister Dr. Timothy Harris told Parliament Wednesday that the National Marijuana Commission, which had been appointed to consult with the public and enquire into the wide-ranging issues surrounding marijuana use, had issued 13 recommendations for consideration.
He said the Commission, which began its work in October 2017, presented its report on January 10 this year and “the Cabinet has accepted the unanimous recommendations of the Commission,” that was chaired by the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Hazel Laws.
Harris told lawmakers that the Commission had recommended that the Drugs Act be amended given the blanket criminalization of cannabis has been overtaken by passage of time and regional and international developments.
It also said the definitions in the Drugs Act relating to cannabis should be amended, having regard to scientific developments since the Act was passed in 1986 and that the use of cannabis and its derivatives for medicinal and scientific purposes should be permitted under licence and a strict legislated regime.
The Commission felt that the regime for the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes should include the establishment of a medicinal licensing authority to regulate importation, local cultivation and production, 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 non- prescribable marijuana products.
It has also recommended that a requirement that prescribable marijuana products must meet international labeling standards as well as the inclusion of other components should be allowed only under advice from experts in the industry.
Cabinet has agreed with the recommendations that production and trade should be permitted under licence and a strict legislated regime of hemp and hemp products and that the penalty for possession of less than 15 grams of cannabis should be reduced to a ticketable offence without a criminal record.
“The penalty for the growth of less than five plants per household should be reduced to a ticketable office without a criminal record,” and the current regime for the rehabilitation of offenders should be amended to permit the Court to expunge the criminal records of persons convicted in the past of possession of cannabis in less than 15 grammes.
Harris said that the Commission also recommended that the current healthcare services for the treatment of substance abuse should be substantially upgraded and increase the number of personnel trained in treatment and counselling of young persons and other vulnerable groups.
“A massive public messaging programme should be created prior to any changes in the law and continuing thereafter informing the public of the benefits and risks and the potential harm to young persons regarding the use of cannabis. 11. The programme should be adapted for use in the school curriculum.
“The smoking and use of cannabis in public places should remain a criminal offence and attract substantial penalties. Offences and penalties of driving under the influence of cannabis should be introduced,” the Commission recommended.
Harris said that in addition, the Cabinet has determined that the use and possession and sale to persons under the age of 18 years of cannabis should be strictly prohibited.
“This is consistent with the science that regular intake, particularly smoking of marijuana by young persons, is inimical to their neurological development.”
He said the acceptance of the recommendations by the government “portends some fundamental changes to existing laws in St. Kitts and Nevis, which the Cabinet will have to consider carefully and consult further on.
“The Commission could not agree that cannabis should be legalized for religious purposes or that it should be legalized for 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.
“At the same time, those found with less than 15 grams of cannabis or growing less than five plants should be subject to ticketable offences only. Those currently in prison on convictions for these small amounts should have their sentences reviewed and anyone convicted for such small amounts should have their convictions expunged,” he said.
But Prime Minister Harris warned that 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”.
He said the Office of the Attorney General would bring the necessary Bill or Bills to Parliament to give effect to the new policy frame.
“We are hopeful that the approach of widespread consultation on a controversial issue, such as cannabis, adopted by this Government will become the model for addressing such issues in a modern democratic society such as St. Kitts and Nevis.”