by Curlan Campbell
Rastafarians who have suffered the most are concerned that they will stand to benefit the least from marijuana decriminalisation. This is the concern of Syisha Williams, one of the more prominent faces of the Marijuana Legalisation Campaign, who has spent the last 10 years advocating and educating people on the benefits that can be derived from Cannabis.
His concerns were raised following Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell’s recent announcement that legislation to amend the Drug Abuse (Prevention and Control) Act will be tabled in parliament before the next general elections.
Williams said based on information received, it can be determined that if the amendments to the bill are structured the way rumour has it, then Grenadians will not stand to benefit the most from its passage into law. “From what we are hearing about how the bill is structured right now, Grenadians will not benefit the most from that. Actually, we stand to lose more. No one has seen the bill, and that’s one of the problems. Now if something is taken to parliament, who was involved in writing the bill and how do we know that they have Grenadians’ best interest at heart?”
Williams said while this move is a small step in the right direction towards legalisation, he believes some major issues must be placed high on the priority list for redress, especially for members of the Rastafarian community which has suffered the most from the prohibition of marijuana.
The most glaring issue is the expunging of criminal records of non-violent offenders charged with either trafficking, smoking, distributing small or large quantities of marijuana. Added to that, Williams made some suggestions that must also be considered if the authority is to protect the ordinary Grenadian wishing to cash in on the industry. One of his recommendations is to ensure that foreign and local companies are prevented from monopolising the cannabis industry in Grenada.
“60% of the cannabis industry must be owned by Grenadians or we can do profit sharing where foreigners can own the company outright but a certain percentage of their profits must benefit Grenada and that can be negotiated; but we have to protect our market from outside exploitation. However we know that we need investors so we don’t want to create a market that keeps investors out.”
“What we prefer to see is the establishment of small niche markets, where the allotment of the acreage is no more than 5 to 10 acres for the biggest farms so that we are not having a case where you have 600-acre farms monopolising the Cannabis industry forcing everyone else out and at the same time people with the 10 acres need to show how they are going to produce a minimum of 5 acres of food also, so that we can feed our people,” he continued.
He is also adamant that members of the Rastafarian community wishing to establish companies should be given a moratorium for the payment of fees for relevant licences and permits to ensure that they are given a head start.
“For the rasta community there should be a minimum 3-year moratorium for permits, licences and fees to catch up because they were disadvantaged by the prohibition. Under the decriminalisation framework, they should be given the freedom to move around with 2 ounces of cured herb (marijuana) and in their homes should be allowed at least 2 pounds that cured.”
Williams also indicated that of prime importance is the current global legal and regulatory barriers that prevent small-scale or traditional ganja/cannabis farmers from entering and benefiting from the emerging medical cannabis industry. “Fees to acquire permits and the necessary licences for locals should not be astronomically high but it should be at a price point where ordinary Grenadians can get in and afford, and for foreigners we can then charge them a hefty fee if they want to come in now. That way we know that our market and people are protected.”
Williams also provided other recommendations that must be included in any legislation for legalisation. These include increasing the age of consumption of cannabis to 21 and over for recreational use. Anyone under the age of 21 must have medical and parental consent to be able to medically use marijuana. Other recommendations include restrictions on when and where people can consume marijuana. For instance, he said there should be no smoking within 100 yards of government buildings, schools, daycare and senior citizens homes and playgrounds.
According to the amendments proposed for the Drug Abuse (Prevention and Control) Act, the main objectives of the 6 amendments are to allow anyone over 18 to be in possession of 28 grams or 0.987671 ounces of marijuana, and to allow each homeowner over the age of 18 to grow no more than 5 trees. Rastafarians will be able to use marijuana solely for religious purposes as a sacrament in adherence to the Rastafarian faith and at a place of worship. While smoking in public places will be prohibited, anyone found guilty will be liable on summary conviction to a fine of EC$500. In addition, anyone “whilst under the influence of cannabis operates, navigates, or is in actual physical control of any motor vehicles, aircraft, or ship; or does anything which constitutes negligence, professional malpractice or professional misconduct commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of EC$500.”
by Curlan Campbell