Prime Minister Skerrit and Mrs Skerrit aon their way to parliament for the delivery of the budget address on Wednesday 23 July 2014
Prime Minister Skerrit and Mrs Skerrit aon their way to parliament for the delivery of the budget address on Wednesday 23 July 2014

Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit promises to decriminalise one ounce of marijuana. Critics say it's another superficial vote catching policy

"Take a step/ Take another little step/ Hold on and never let go".

Usually Dominica's Rastafarians sing this entrancing simple song as they march through Roseau's streets on the annual observance of African Liberation Day as bewitching drums go: "Chump- chump-chi-pity-chump".

Rastafarians and other smokers of ganja probably sang that song last week when the Government of Dominica announced that it will take a "little step" towards the decriminalization of marijuana.

"The Government will therefore propose that the possession of not more than 28.35 grams (1 ounce) of marijuana, be decriminalised," said Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit as he delivered the budget address for the 2019-2020 Fiscal Year.

Prime Minister Skerrit did not say when his government would be making that move.

Skerrit also announced that the amended legislation will "go further and make the necessary amendments to have struck off from the record of those convicted for marijuana possession, any conviction in respect of the possession of 28.35 grams (one ounce) or less".

Dominica will join a growing number of Caribbean countries to take a few steps towards the decriminalization of marijuana. The use of small amounts of ganja has been decimalized in Antigua, Bermuda, St. Kitts & Nevis and Jamaica. In 2015 Jamaica became the first country in CARICOM to decriminalised ganja when its parliament decriminalised up to two ounces of the drug and allowed households to grow up to five trees for its use. In July 2019 the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago was still talking about the issue. The use of cannabis for recreational purposes is prohibited in most countries; however, many have adopted a policy of decriminalization to make simple possession a non-criminal offense.

These moves are in keeping with the recommendations of the CARICOM Regional Commission on Marijuana (2018). In the document titled "Waiting to Exhale: safeguarding our future through responsible socio-legal policy on marijuana" the commission recommends that "possession and use in private households and for personal use only should be decriminalised".

The Commission added: "There is significant concern that incarcerating persons for cannabis induces criminality, turning them into hardened criminals, more likely to create serious victim-based crimes".

But the opposition United Workers Party (UWP) wants Dominica to make the bold move beyond decriminalization of small amounts of ganja to commercialization.

"A share of the global cannabis industry can deliver the lift we desperately need for the rural economy and strong livelihood restoration," Opposition Leader Lennox Linton said in his response to the budget last week.

But a leading proponent of the local movement to decriminalize ganja and the production and marketing of medical marijuana has described government's promise to decriminalize one ounce of ganja as "an irresponsible approach to something that everyone else is taking seriously. It is just another superficial vote catching policy with no depth or substance to it."