ST VINCENT: Ganja Still Illegal, But…

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves speaking at the press conference on Tuesday. (iWN photo)

(iWitness News)

Marijuana cultivation and possession in St. Vincent and the Grenadines is still illegal, notwithstanding the laws passed in Parliament since December 2018 and the policy shift of the Unity Labour Party (ULP) administration.

“The law is the law as it has been, simply because the provision for changes has not yet been proclaimed,” Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said at a press conference in Kingstown on Tuesday.

He, however, said that his government has a policy on the enforcement of the current law — in light of the pending proclamation of the new laws.

Last week Tuesday, members of the Rapid Response Unit, a tactical unit of the police force, chopped down a field of marijuana in Richmond Vale, owned by Cecil Hamilton Edwards, 69, a first-time ganja farmer, who is awaiting the processing of his licence.

Speaking in Chateaubelair, on Sunday, about the development, Gonsalves said there are “one or two policemen and women here and there who want, in an election year, to play politics with how they are addressing the liberalisation of marijuana which the government has established as a policy.

“I want to advise them, I am keeping an eagle eye on what is happening.  And when I am ready, in the appropriate circumstances to act. Ah warning — or a piece of advice to the wise should be sufficient. And I want just to remind them to that I am not afraid of anything or anybody because I am a soldier with experience and I believe in the redemptive power of my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,” the prime minister further stated.

Edwards, along with Member of Parliament for North Leeward, Roland Patel Matthews and marijuana liberalisation activist, Junior “Spirit” Cottle have each suggested that the raid was politically motivated.

Mathews has suggested it was done because Edwards supports the NDP, while Cottle has suggested that rogue police officers were trying to create political mischief for the ULP in an election year.

At the same time, Commissioner of Police Colin John had said that politics was not a factor in the actions of the police.

John said that when he heard about the raid, “I told them (officers) about the government’s policy as regard the amnesty and everything like that and told them they should desist from doing that”.

In December 2018, Parliament passed a law providing for the granting of licences for the cultivation of marijuana for medicinal use.

A new law also says persons cannot be arrested, jailed or get a record for having 56 grammes in their possession, and there will be a specific amnesty period for traditional growers of marijuana.

The laws, however, are yet to come into effect.

Gonsalves said Tuesday that the new laws will come into force “pretty soon”, and the delay is because “there are a number of administrative things which we have to put in place”.

The prime minister added: “But what is happening is that even when the government didn’t announce its intention to de-penalise the possession of marijuana, small quantities, I had asked the commissioner of police, successive commissioners of police, not to use prosecutorial resources, not to use the police to lock up fellas for a spliff on the block, behind their grandmother house. I have said that over and over.”

Asked what about cutting down a ganja field, the prime minister said:

“Well, before the new law was passed, I didn’t ask in that regard because I was dealing with the simple possession but since the law was passed and an amnesty is in the offing, I would expect that the police would also exercise greater restraint in that regard because an amnesty is coming.”

Asked if the police officers who cut down the marijuana field and arrested the two individuals were enforcing the current law, the prime minister said:

“The answer to that is yes. But it doesn’t stop there, because, in the same way that hitherto before the policy was announced in the way we announced it in Parliament and passed laws though not yet proclaimed and not yet operational, there was a prosecutorial discretion used by the police not to lock up somebody who had a spliff and if a policeman went and did it, he wasn’t doing it contrary to the law, but his superior would say to him, why you bother with that.”

The prime minister confirmed that policy is not higher than law.

“But if a commissioner of police, as in the previous situations I describe, say to the Drug Squad, for instance, ‘Look, don’t go and lock up somebody if you see they on the block or behind their grandmother’s house smoking a spliff’ and a policeman goes and does it, it would be open to the commissioner to say to that person, ‘But there is the law but I tell you what is the policy which we are seeking to do, just leave that. If it is something more serious–’”

The prime minister said he doesn’t always like argument by analogy but analogies help to illustrate the point.

He used the example of a policeman giving a ticket to a busy housewife who parked her car leaving the wheels slightly over the line.

“As they would say on the block, it would take a real tusty (thirsty) policeman to go into Greaves supermarket and pull out a woman shopping and say, ‘Listen, your left wheel in front and your left wheel behind is outside the line. Come with me because I am charging you for this offence.’

“Now, the police would not be doing something outside of the law and he is carrying out his duty to enforce the law. But you have to enforce it with common sense. You have to enforce it with discretion. Otherwise, how are you going to function practically?”

Asked how soon the amnesty is going to come into effect, Gonsalves said, “Soon.”

He was told that it is the same thing he had been saying since September and a marijuana crop was likely to have been harvested already had it been planted then.

“It’s coming soon,” Gonsalves said.

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