The Jeff Cumberbatch Column – For Medical Use Only
“Subject to subsection (4), the Minister shall so exercise his
- that it is not unlawful under section 5(l) for a practitioner, acting in his capacity as such, to prescribe, administer, manufacture, compound or supply a controlled drug, or for a pharmacist, acting in his capacity as such, to manufacture, compound or supply a controlled drug
- that it is not unlawful under section 6(l) for a practitioner or pharmacist to have a controlled drug in his possession for the purpose of acting in his capacity as such- section 12-Drug Abuse (Prevention and Control) Act 1990-14
Almost predictably, Barbados last week announced an intention to approve the use of marijuana as a legitimate treatment for certain prescribed ailments, while reserving its position on the current criminalization of the recreational use of the controlled substance. Even so, the use of medical marijuana here will be rather tightly circumscribed, being susceptible for prescription as a last resort only and, according to the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Kenneth George, the smoking of the substance will form no part of the new therapy.
In the same week, the neighbouring jurisdiction of St. Vincent and the Grenadines announced the roll out of three kindred Bills to be sent to a select committee of that nation’s parliament; namely the Cannabis Cultivation (Amnesty) Bill; the Permitted Use of Cannabis for Religious Purposes Bill and the Medicinal Cannabis Industry Bill.
St Vincent & the Grenadines has sometimes appeared to be a step ahead of Barbados in certain legislative reforms, none more stark than that of the adoption of legislation protecting against unfair dismissals, first enacted in Barbados in 2012 and yet a legislative reality in St Vincent & the Grenadines since 1979!
The subject matters of the recently enacted pieces of legislation should serve as a harbinger of the enormity of the legislative task that faces Barbados if we are to approve the therapeutic use of marijuana as announced. For one, if we are to avoid the patently ironic and foreign exchange depletive importation of the substance, then we are going to have to licence its local cultivation under certain regulated conditions. It should be noted that the cultivation of cannabis is currently an offence in Barbados. According to the local Act-
(1) Subject to any regulations under section 12, it shall not be lawful for a person to cultivate any plant of the genus Cannabis, any coca plant or opium poppy… and
(2) Subject to section 39, it is an offence to cultivate any such plant in contravention of subsection (1).
In this connection, the proposed Vincentian statute envisages initially, the declaration of an amnesty period, whereby a qualifying person as stipulated who, in or before that period, is or was engaged in the criminal cultivation of cannabis shall be entitled to the relief provided –
Notwithstanding any provisions of the Drug (Prevention of Misuse) Act or any other relevant enactment, no criminal proceedings shall be taken against a qualifying person who complies with the provisions of this Act and the conditions of a traditional cultivation licence issued under this Act during the amnesty period.
In order to be treated as a “qualifying person”, the cultivator must register with the to-be established Medical Cannabis Authority by submitting certain prescribed information and surrendering all cannabis in his or her possession to the said Authority. Once the information submitted by the individual is verified by the Authority, it then makes a recommendation to the Minister for the issuance to him or her of a certificate of amnesty in the prescribed form and subject to stipulated conditions, including whether there is the intention on the part of the qualifying person to apply for a Traditional Cultivator’s Licence pursuant to the Medical Cannabis Authority Act. If so, this must be notified in writing to the Authority.
Another item addressed in the slate of Vincentian legislation although scarcely lobbied for in Barbados in recent years is located within the Permitted Use of Cannabis for Religious Purposes Bill. This novel statute is styled
“An Act to provide for the decriminalization of the use of cannabis as a sacrament in adherence to a religious practice by such religious bodies as may be prescribed by Order of the Minister, including, but not limited to, the Rastafarian faith, at their place of worship and at an event declared by Order of the Minster to be an exempt event, for the purposes of this Act and for matters and purposes incidental thereto”.
In this Bill, a person who is an adherent of a religious body, including but not limited to the Rastafarian faith, or an organization comprising of (sic) such persons, may cultivate, possess, transport, supply and use cannabis for religious purposes. Immediately, certain questions beg asking. For instance, while it is by now notorious that certain members of the Rastafarian faith use marijuana for sacramental purposes, one may legitimately wonder which other religious bodies do such. The Bill does not supply a direct answer, although in a provision that comes close, in my view, to infringing the separation of Church and State and the concomitant guarantee of freedom of religion, religious faith is defined as “a religious faith designated by the Minister by Order under section 4, as a religious faith for the purposes of this Act”, thus leaving the designation as a matter entirely for the state.
Of necessity, the Bill also proposes the non-applicability of legislation such as the Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Act, the Drug Trafficking Offences Act, and the Proceeds of Crime Act to render unlawful the cultivation, possession , supply and use of cannabis in accordance with the provisions.
The Act is not entirely a religious adherent’s charter for the use of marijuana however. According to Clause 3 (2)-
“For the avoidance of doubt, where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that there is an intention to contravene the provisions of section 6 or 7 or 8 of the Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Act, subsection (1) shall not restrict the exercise of the discretion of the Director of Public Prosecutions from prosecuting a person for a relevant offence under that Act or any other relevant enactment.
These sections treat the possession and cultivation of marijuana. And it appears, any cannabis used for religious purposes must be homegrown. Clause 7 of the Bill mandates-
“No person shall import cannabis into St. Vincent and the Grenadines for religious purposes”.
The content of these two Bills signal that Barbados may have some other matters to consider before settling on a comprehensive legislative machinery for marijuana use. The governing administration has already made it clear that any legalization or decriminalization thereof must be subject to popular affirmation in a referendum. Few would doubt however that the legalization of marijuana for medical use will not lead to a likely upsurge in its recreational use, given the increased availability. Future legislation must therefore address issues such as the public use of marijuana, the circumstances of its cultivation and distribution including especially their location and accessibility to minors, and its link with the control of motor vehicles and other activities. We may still have some way to go.