Antigua and Barbuda is preparing to legalize the regulated production and supply of cannabis for religious and medical purposes after consultation with Rastafarian communities.
2018's cannabis law has two main functions: to regulate the production, prescription and supply of cannabis for medical purposes to patients, and to allow Rastafarians (as well as other religious groups) to possess, cultivate and provide cannabis - in amounts exceeding existing thresholds - for religious purposes. The bill will not legalize cannabis for recreational purposes.
Following an amendment to the law passed in March 2018, all adults can now legally own less than 15 grams of cannabis, and grow a maximum of four plants, for their personal use.
The new bill allows "the adherent of a religious organization, including, but not limited to, the Rastafarian faith ... [to] register with the Authority to cultivate more than four cannabis plants and possess or carry more than 15 grams of cannabis for religious purposes. " It also allows these religious followers to "distribute cannabis only for religious purposes as a sacrament, in accordance with a priestly practice of the religious body, in a sacramental dispensary".
The bill is backed by Prime Minister Gaston Browne, who publicly apologized for the state's brutal discrimination against Rastafarians who use cannabis.
"[The police] was ubiquitous. Just the smell of marijuana, they literally went into people's homes and literally abused them (...) I remember two or three times I saw guys who were literally fleeing police even before approaching them because they knew the consequences. The consequences were not just lawsuits. It was also brutalisation. I take this opportunity to apologize to the family members of these people for the abuse that allegedly took place over the decades. "
To redress the wrongs done to the Rastafarian community, the government has sought to include the followers of the faith as stakeholders in the legislative process of the new bill.
Public consultations began in January, during which Rastafarians, community groups, NGOs, churches and other organizations were invited to make comments and suggestions on cannabis reform. Some Rastafarians expressed concern over the possession threshold limits introduced earlier this year.
"For the Rasta man and the Rasta family, [these thresholds are] a joke. We drink it, we eat it, we make oils and other things. I applaud the efforts, but we hope we will do much more. I still think the government has to at least match the Jamaican bill. Whatever is less, we consider it unacceptable. In Jamaica, you get two ounces and for every person in a working home, you have the right to grow five plants, "said Kiyode Erasto Straker of the Ras Freeman community, reports Saint Lucia News.
This feedback has clearly been taken into account by legislators.
Having already successfully passed three readings in the House of Representatives, the bill is ready for its final debate before being legally adopted. However, Prime Minister Browne has decided to hold a final public consultation on the law - which will involve Rastafarians and health professionals - the November 23.
"We invite the various stakeholders to come and share their views on the marijuana bill and make changes and come back to the next 10 days, by then we will have our final debate and to adopt this text as a law, the Cannabis Bill of 2018, "said Browne.
Antigua and Barbuda will join many other countries in the Americas legalizing cannabis for medical purposes, such as Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Uruguay.