Antigua and Barbuda is preparing to legalize the regulated production and supply of cannabis for religious and medical purposes, after consultation with Rastafarian communities.
The Cannabis Bill of 2018 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 own, cultivate and providing cannabis - in quantities 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 "a member of a religious body, including, but not limited to, the Rastafarian faith ... [to] register with the Authority to cultivate more than four cannabis plants. and possessing or transporting 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 has publicly apologized for the state's brutal discrimination against Rastafarians who use cannabis.
“[The police] were everywhere. Just the smell of marijuana, they would literally go into people's homes and literally abuse them (…) I remember a couple of times I saw guys literally running away from the police before they even approached them because they knew the consequences. The consequences weren't just lawsuits. It was also brutalization. I take this opportunity to apologize to the family members of these individuals for the abuse allegedly committed over the decades. "
To right the wrongs done to the Rastafarian community, the government has worked to include 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 provide comments and suggestions on cannabis reform. Some Rastafarians have expressed concern about the possession threshold limits introduced earlier this year.
“For the Rastafarian man and the Rastafarian family, [these thresholds are] a joke. We drink it, we eat it, we make oils out of it and stuff. I applaud the efforts made, but we hope that much more will be done. I still think the government needs to at least match the Jamaican bill. Anything less, we consider unacceptable. In Jamaica, you are entitled to two ounces and for each person in a working household, you are entitled to grow five plants, "says Kiyode Erasto Straker of the Ras Freeman community, reports Saint Lucia News.
This feedback has clearly been taken into account by lawmakers.
Having already 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 - in which Rastafarians and healthcare professionals will participate - on November 23.
"We invite the various stakeholders to come and share their views on the marijuana bill and make changes to it and come back in the next 10 days, by then we will have our final debate." and pass this text into law, the Cannabis Bill of 2018, ”Browne said.
Antigua and Barbuda will join many other countries in the Americas legalizing cannabis for medical purposes, such as Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Uruguay.