Caribbean Island Nations Getting Onboard with Decriminalization

By J.J. McCoy, Senior Managing Editor for New Frontier Data

After a meeting this month by heads of state among the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) including Bahamas, Barbados, Haiti, Jamaica, and 15 other neighboring island nations, the group came to some consensus toward legalizing and regulating cannabis. The officials agreed to “review marijuana’s current status with a view to reclassification,” noting issues of human and religious rights infringed by criminalization, as well as economic benefits to be derived from legalization.

“The medical and scientific evidence is clear that marijuana has substantial value,” said the commission chair Rose-Marie Belle Antoine. “Thousands of people are being imprisoned, especially the most vulnerable and most marginalized in the region.”

The CARICOM nations boast a combined population of more than 18 million residents among the entire Caribbean region’s more than 44 million people overall. The 19 representative state officials announced “welcoming” report recommendations which noted that “the current classification of marijuana as an illicit drug presented a challenge in the conduct of research to fully understand and ascertain the medicinal benefits.” The commission unanimously agreed that the current classification of cannabis as a dangerous drug with no value should be amended to classification as a controlled substance. It also recommended that smoking and other public uses should be banned.

As detailed in the report, “An economics study commissioned for the commission illustrates that the highest financial benefits will come from a fully legalized model that is strictly regulated, and the lowest benefit will come from decriminalizing only.”

The report overall included findings and recommendations into the socioeconomic, public health, and legal issues surrounding cannabis use throughout the Caribbean. Jamaica recently reported a Public Domain survey in which 71% of residents favored legalizing medical cannabis, and 100% of respondents ranked cannabis as the least harmful substance among comparison to tobacco, alcohol, and sugar. Though cannabis has been legally prohibited since 1905, it has a long and relevant tradition on the island. To the extents that the United States, Canada, Israel and Europe currently enjoy head starts on legalization, arguments can be made that Jamaica nevertheless offers an established tourism market and plants of legendary reputation.

CARICOM’s meeting came just weeks after Canada passed nationwide adult-use legalization, and after Mexico elected a new, and pro-legalization, president in Andrés Manuel López Obrador. If all of these countries follow Canada’s lead, the United States would essentially be geographically surrounded by legalized cannabis markets.

The group’s Regional Commission on Marijuana determined that “the end goal for CARICOM should be the dismantling of [cannabis] prohibition in its totality, to be replaced by a strictly regulated framework akin to that for alcohol and tobacco, which are harmful substances that are not criminalized,” according to the Nassau Guardian newspaper. “The commission is unanimous in its view that ultimately, legal policy toward marijuana should be informed, not by punitive approaches, but by public health rationales, within a human rights, social justice, and developmental perspective.”

J.J. McCoy, New Frontier Data Senior Managing Editor

J.J. McCoy

J.J. McCoy is Senior Managing Editor for New Frontier Data. A former staff writer for The Washington Post, he is a career journalist having covered emerging technologies among industries including aviation, satellites, transportation, law enforcement, the Smart Grid and professional sports. He has reported from the White House, the U.S. Senate, three continents and counting.