Dominica's first national consultation on marijuana becomes an urgent call to decriminalize the herb
The crowd that gathered at the Goodwill Parish Hall for the first National Consultation of Cannabis last Friday was so "pro-legalise it" that if some people had proceeded to light up a spliff or two, many would not have been surprised. Notably, no one spoke directly against the herb at the meeting.
And when Professor Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, the chairperson of the CARICOM Regional Commission on Marijuana began the major address of the consultation by stating that she was on the side of a pro-weed movement in the Caribbean, the crowd erupted with load applause. She was not sitting on the fence anymore, she said.
"I am personally committed and quite clear in my mind that the law needs to change," she said. "What we need to decide is in what ways the law will change."
Professor Belle Antoine said the message around the Caribbean was absolutely clear: the law has to change and that the report: "Waiting to Exhale-Safeguarding our Future through Responsible Socio-Legal Policy on Marijuana" gave Caribbean countries a few lanes on the road towards change.
"I would say without any doubt that there is overwhelming support for moving away from what we call prohibition," she said.
Earlier in the consultation Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit hinted that his government was on the side of the pro-legalise debate when he said his government was not opposed to taking action on the issue of decriminalization of marijuana. He added that he believes people should not be arrested and jailed for the possession of small quantities of the herb.
"I believe that's something we can deal with almost immediately as a nation," he said. "Once there is consensus the government has the political will to take those matters to parliament to effect legislation."
When Catholic Church Bishop Gabriel Malzaire said he was impressed with the presentation by Professor Belle Antoine and that it was based on facts and scientific research.
"If there is going to be any kind of legal framework to marijuana usage, we have to consider exactly what we are doing," Bishop Malzaire warned. "From the religious field I think what we are concerned about is developing in our nation wholesome people; wholesome, spiritual purposeful."
But the word from Rastafarians at the consultation was that too much talking would cause Dominicans to miss the reform train. And there are decisions that Dominicans must take immediately.
"It is very shameful and regrettable that we still hear people are being punished, people are being fined, and people are being jailed when they are found with the herb in their possession," said Imani Shaw, a spokesman of the House of Nyahbinghi, the Rastafarian group. "I think we will have some form of amnesty. Let's put a stop while we review, let's stop punishing our people."