CARICOM's new position on cannabis
When St. Lucia's Prime Minster Dr. Kenny Anthony first proposed a CARICOM Commission on cannabis about a decade and a half ago, the region was not ready.
His CARICOM colleagues shifted uncomfortably in their seats and mostly said and did nothing. His idea was a fleeting curiosity that sank quickly.
Then, CARICOM states' position on cannabis was steeped in the perception that the weed increased crime and vice, eroded morals and values and ruined personal and public health.
This mindset fueled a 'zero-tolerance' approach with severe penalties for the possession of even small quantities of cannabis for personal use.
But things have changed. Today, many CARICOM leaders like Dominica's Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit have a softer view of cannabis and citizens' advocacy is on the rise. A defining event occurred in 2014 when CARICOM leaders launched the Regional Commission on Marijuana to "provide clear guidance" regarding decisions about the herb.
Headed by Prof. Rose-Marie-Bell Antoine of the University of the West Indies, the commission comprises professionals with a wealth of expert knowledge on cannabis related issues.
The team is scrupulously examining all aspects of cannabis use in the Caribbean; specifically to assess the possible reclassification of cannabis as a drug to increase its accessibility.
As the commission presses on, other regional nations are closely monitoring the situation in Jamaica where cannabis was decriminalized 'with stipulations' in 2015.
Jamaica decriminalized possession of up to two ounces of marijuana for personal use and permits cultivation of up to five plants in designated locations.
To tap into the significant economic gains from cannabis' medicinal properties, Jamaica has also established a medical marijuana industry regulated by a licensing authority. Other Regional nations are getting ready to follow suit and CARICOM is now pushing the legalization of cannabis on the world stage.
In April 2016, representatives of CARICOM nations at the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs proposed that the UN review the classification of cannabis.
The proposal urged the UN to permit member states to craft appropriate laws and policies while continuing to undertake their obligations under the UN Drug Control Conventions.
It was based on different nations' cultural perspectives and practices related to cannabis-- like its use as folk medicine or in religion-that is quite distinct from the illicit drug trade.
While the UN session ended without any agreed change to the existing conventions, there is no doubt that a wind of change is blowing in CARICOM nations' perspective of cannabis.
Indeed, CARICOM can draw a lot from the Jamaica experience, which has produced compelling data about the good and bad sides of the issue.
The pros in Jamaica feature positive developments like Dr. Henry Lowe's breakthrough discovery of potentially affordable treatment for hepatitis C using derivatives from cannabis.
But the cons include a 50% jump in the number of children seeking help at public medical facilities in Jamaica for cannabis-related illnesses.
CARICOM is moving towards giving cannabis a 'thumbs up' and more people are following.