Monday, September 16, 2013

Caribbean: Puerto Rico, Island-Nations Examine Decriminalizing Marijuana, Pitfalls Abound

According to EFE, the small economies of the Caribbean are beginning to examine the legalization, or at least the decriminalization, of the consumption and possession of marijuana, with Puerto Rico leading the pack now that next week the Senate will begin studying the issue.

A heated debate has arisen in Puerto Rico in recent weeks about the possible decriminalization of possessing small quantities of cannabis, as well as over-legalizing its sale and consumption for medical purposes.

“Let’s leave hypocrisy behind,” said Miguel Pereira, the senator from Puerto Rico’s governing party who presented the proposal to decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce (28 grams) of pot, which is believed may be more heavily consumed on the island than tobacco.

Also, voices have emerged from the university and business spheres supporting the initiative, many of them arguing that criminal penalties for pot consumption have destroyed the academic and professional careers of thousands of young people.

COMMENT: Next Tuesday (September 24), the first public hearings will be held in the Puerto Rican Senate to allow interested parties to comment on the matter and lawmakers will begin studying the proposal to amend the prevailing law, which establishes fines of up to $5,000 and three years in prison for those who “knowingly or intentionally possess any controlled substance.”

Besides Puerto Rico, many other Caribbean islands are studying whether to alter legislation relating to pot, both to reduce police, court and prison costs and to increase the revenue that could be obtained by taxing legal pot sales.

St. Lucia, for instance, has been working on the matter for some time, just like Jamaica, which is one of the main marijuana providers in the region and where tourists can even take guided tours of illegal pot plantations.

The prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves, proposed to his Trinidad and Tobago counterpart, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, that in his capacity as president of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), he encourages a debate on legalizing the sale and consumption of cannabis for medicinal purposes. 

As I have often said in these pages in recent years, just because two US states (Washington and Colorado) have decriminalized marijuana does not mean that it is a prudent course of action, only that the votes of those two states have deemed it so.

The scientific evidence is still clear: cannabis IS a gateway drug. In the interest of today's children and youth, it is hardly a conducive trend to perpetuate impairment in all forms throughout society simply because such behavior is in vogue.