On Tuesday, the prime minister of Saint Kitts and Nevis, the dual-island nation in the Caribbean, brought his country a step closer to regulating the use of cannabis for medical, religious, and “recreational” purposes.
The prime minister, Timothy Harris, introduced a series of amendments to the country’s drug laws that would legalize cannabis for medical use and decriminalize possession of small amounts, as well as growing small amounts.
The proposed amendments are largely a response to the National Cannabis Commission, which was established in 2017 to gauge local attitudes toward policy reform, and which in January issued a major report touching on a number of cannabis-related issues. These include common uses in the country, such as the treatment of “medical conditions like chronic pain, asthma, menstrual disorders, nausea and glaucoma”; the role of the plant in the Rastafari religion; and the effects of its criminalization. The comprehensive report also took stock of the growing list of countries that have legalized or decriminalized some form of cannabis use, and at the potentially adverse effects of cannabis consumption on pregnant women, children, and adolescents.
On the global stage, with an eye toward the possible repercussions if St. Kitts and Nevis ended prohibition, the Commission’s report also delves into the country’s relationship with international drug control treaties. In this vein, the report notes that the Bankers and Financial Services Association of St. Kitts and Nevis “holds the strong view that even with successful local reform, the relationships with International Correspondence Banks would be adversely impacted” by the legalization of cannabis.
Current law holds that, in addition to fines, possession of more than fifteen grams of cannabis in St. Kitts and Nevis can result in five years to life in prison. Possession of less than fifteen grams, meanwhile, can result in a two-to-seven year sentence, while cultivation can result in three to fourteen years of imprisonment. In its report, the Commission concludes that “The blanket criminalisation of cannabis as per the Drugs Act is archaic and unjustified.”
It then goes on to make a number of recommendations, including that the language of the law be amended to reflect scientific developments and that the use of cannabis and its derivatives for medical and scientific purposes be permitted.
Significantly, the report also suggests that, “If the prohibition on the use for recreational purposes is retained,” the penalty for possession of less than fifteen grams of cannabis and the growth of less than five plants per household should be reduced to a ticketable offense, without a criminal record. Yet it also warns that “Government should be mindful of the potential adverse consequences to the banking system, and by extension the economy, of breaching the country’s international agreements.”
On the subject of cannabis for religious purposes, the Commission states: “As a God given herb, unrestricted use of cannabis by Rastafari should be permitted for religious ceremonies.”
Additionally, only a few months after the publication of the Commission’s report, the country’s High Court ruled in favor of a Rastafarian man who was found guilty of cannabis possession and cultivation. The man, who was fined and sentenced to one month in prison, appealed his conviction, which raised questions regarding whether Rastafarianism is a religion, and if prohibition of cannabis cultivation and possession infringes on a person’s rights to privacy and “freedom of conscience and religion.” Notably, after ruling in favor of the plaintiff, Judge Eddy Ventose also instructed the National Assembly to “remedy the constitutional defects set out in this judgment.”
Building on the Commission’s report and the ruling on the Rastafarian defendant, Prime Minister Timothy Harris introduced the amendments to the National Assembly on Tuesday, calling for the creation of a framework to legalize cannabis for medical purposes, as well as the decriminalization of the possession up to fifteen grams and the cultivation of less than five plants.
To help advance the work of the Commission, the administration has opened the proposal to public comment and created a “broad-based Cannabis Implementation Core Committee.” Its purpose, said Harris, is to “ensure that the cannabis bill, which will be the landmark piece of legislation in relation to the way forward in the marijuana industry, represents, as much as is possible, the views of the country and the society.”