Final consultations on marijuana law this Friday

Any group/organisation that wishes to have an input in the Cannabis Bill 2018 which seeks to legalise the use of the herb for medicinal, religious and sacramental purposes will get a chance to do so this Friday.

The government will be issuing invitations to a number of groups, while members of the public who want to get involved can approach the Clerk of Parliament, Ramona Small at Parliament Building, Queen Elizabeth Highway, and make a request.

That’s according to Ryan Johnson, draftsman of the Cannabis Bill 2018.

At 10 a.m. at Parliament Building, a five-member parliamentary Select Committee will engage the stakeholders, including Rastafarians and medical professionals, among others identified as approved healthcare professionals, on matters that concern them regarding the journey towards the legalisation and management of the industry thereafter.

Prime Minister, Gaston Browne, on Tuesday, appointed the following Parliamentarians to the Committee: Steadroy Benjamin, Attorney General – who will Chair the Committee; Samantha Marshall, Social Transformation Minister; Molwyn Joseph, Health Minister; Jamal Pringle, Opposition Leader; and Trevor Walker, Barbuda Member of Parliament (MP).

Other attendees who will participate in the consultation shall include Johnson-Draftsperson of the Cannabis Bill and Marcus Ramkissoon- Certified Cannabis Expert and Consultant.

The prime minister told the nation, during his presentation of the Bill in Parliament, that “The remit of that committee is to convene this Friday, right here at the parliamentary chambers, at 10 a.m. and to ensure that there is good participation.”

He added, “We invite the various stakeholders to come and give their views on the proposed marijuana bill and for us to make changes and to come back here within the next 10 days by which time we will have our final debate and to pass this Bill into an Act, the Cannabis Bill of 2018.”

The move is in keeping with the government’s promise to develop medical and other marijuana related industries both for local and international consumption. 

The 54-page Bill is divided into five parts: Cannabis for sacramental and religious purposes; Cannabis for medicinal purposes – part 1, with access to medicinal purposes serving as part 2; Licensing the supply of medicinal cannabis; Offences (general prohibitions and prohibitions 

relating to authorised healthcare professional) and; Appeals. 

Also of note, is the fact that the proposed legislation keeps six considerations as priority: Ensuring that Antigua and Barbuda keeps within the protocol of the International Drug Conventions; The Medicinal Benefits to the Population; The Economic benefits to the population; The Social Justice benefits to the population; Ensuring the constitutional right of the population to freely practice one’s religion is upheld; and Immediately drastically reducing with the intent to totally eliminate the black market supply of cannabis through satisfying the population demand via a controlled, regulated medicinal market.

According to the Bill, there are employment opportunities to be derived as a result of this new industry, while the country stands to benefit from taxes and duties imposed on what is to be a “heavily regulated medicinal cannabis market”. The government further expects to earn more revenues through dividends.

The law will establish the Antigua and Barbuda Medicinal Cannabis Authority whose functions will be described therein, to authorise medicinal and alternative health practitioners to recommend medicinal cannabis, and to establish scientific research protocol for medicinal cannabis.

Approved Alternative Health Care Professionals with authority to prescribe or administer medicinal marijuana are the ones to whom residents would have to turn and such professionals must be properly certified in any of the following alternative health disciplines: Naturopathic Doctor; Doctor of Chiropractic; Master of Acupuncture or oriental medicine; Physical Therapist; Doctor of Ayurvedic Medicine; Homeopathic Doctor; and Nutritionists.

The proposed law also states that an “Authorized health care professional” means any medicinal doctor, veterinarian, dental surgeon or approved alternative health care practitioner, “that is authorized by the Authority”.