Leaders in the dual-island nation of St. Kitts and Nevis will introduce new legislation on Tuesday aimed at legalizing marijuana for “medicinal and scientific, religious and recreational purposes,” according to the Office of the Prime Minister.
“This is a major legislative achievement of the Team Unity administration, which has done in less than five years what could not be done in 20 years,” reads a statement released on Monday by the Caribbean nation’s government.
The move comes almost six months after a government-appointed National Marijuana Commission recommended that the country’s Drugs Act of 1986 be amended to take into consideration the latest research on the benefits of cannabis. Among its proposals, the Commission supported legalizing the use of marijuana and its derivatives for medicinal and scientific purposes, decriminalizing possession of 15 grams of cannabis or less and the expungement of criminal records for people convicted for similar amounts.
In response, lawmakers introduced the Cannabis Bill 2019 in May to create the necessary framework to allow for the cultivation and use of marijuana in St. Kitts and Nevis.
At the time, Prime Minister Timothy Harris lauded his administration’s ability to “cut across the three broad gamut that had been the subject of discussion regionally and elsewhere with respect to the issues to do with marijuana,” referring to its medicinal, for religious and recreational uses. He also called the bill “a reformist and enlightened piece of legislation that appropriately responds to the popular will of our population.”
Shortly after the bill’s introduction, however, the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court ruled that parts of the Drugs Acts infringed upon citizens’ constitutional rights to freedom of religion and privacy, and called for lawmakers to “remedy [these] constitutional defects.”
The ruling came down in a lawsuit filed by a Rastafarian man who argued that his ability to practice his religion was obstructed when he was arrested in 2012 on charges of marijuana possession with intent to sell, as well as cultivation. Rastafarians often use cannabis in their religious practices.
According to the new government statement about the forthcoming bill, the “far-reaching legislative amendments” set to be unveiled during a National Assembly meeting on Tuesday will address the parts of the Drugs Act that were ruled unconstitutional. It also noted that the prime minister “has promised to give special support and priority to locals interested in pursuing marijuana cultivation and trade within the confines of the law.”
He also “warned that the country’s lands will not be ceded to foreign elements of nefarious character and disgraceful conduct,” the press release says.
Last year, a regional commission representing the interests of Caribbean nations, including the Bahamas, Jamaica and St. Kitts and Nevis, recommended replacing marijuana criminalization with legal regulation.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.