Big cannabis changes in Barbados

Big cannabis changes in Barbados
Barbados Attorney General, Dale Marshall.
Photo by George Alleyne

Not only is Barbados well on its way to legalisation of cannabis for medical purposes, but the island’s Rastafarian community will soon be able to lawfully use the herb in their religious sacrament.

At the time the Barbados government used its 29-to-one majority to pass the Medicinal Cannabis Industry Bill 2019, in the lower chamber of Parliament Tuesday, Attorney General Dale Marshall announced that Rastafarians would soon be able to use cannabis as part of their rite without fear, adding that a draft of the bill supporting the Rastafarian ritual would be available within weeks.

“I have taken to Cabinet and I have got Cabinet’s approval for the preparation of a bill to bring to this chamber which will facilitate the use by members of the Rastafarian faith of cannabis for the purpose of their religion,” Marshall said, adding, “for us to continue to prohibit that, would be to continue to breach their fundamental constitutional rights. And not just rights guaranteed by the Barbados Constitution, but rights guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

The AG cited Article 18 of that Covenant which states that, “everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice. And freedom either individually or in community with others and in public or private to manifest his religion, or belief or worship, observance, practice and teaching.”

He pointed out that those rights are expressed in the Barbados Constitution in similar words.

The occurrence and announcement in the lower chamber, or House of Assembly, of the island’s Parliament mark radical departures for this country that is regarded as the most conservative among a group of conservative nations comprising the English-speaking Caribbean.

Passage of the Medicinal Cannabis Industry Bill 2019, Tuesday means that it will be considered by the Senate, where government holds a 12-to-09 majority, then go through the formality of governor’s assent and proclamation.

This imminent law answers years of calls by sufferers of various medical conditions for access to prescribed cannabis which has been scientifically proven to provide relief to their ailment, if not cure.

It also paves the way for Barbados to legally continue offering international business services, including insurance, to Canadian companies that are somehow connected to the cannabis industry in that north American country where it is legal.

Barbados’ largest international business, or offshore, trading partner is Canada.

Campaigning for office last year, the Mia Mottley Barbados Labour Party had not only pledged to make legal medical cannabis once it attains office, but also to return to the people by way of referendum on whether the recreational form of the plant should be legalised.

While that referendum is still on the cards during this political term that expires by 2023, the 18-month-old government’s announcement Tuesday of its intention to accede to Rastafarians’ plea for respect of their right to the plant for ritualistic purposes, however, took most of the nation by surprise.

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