Mr. Speaker, I thank you for the opportunity to address this august National Assembly on yet another crucial matter reflecting our progress in properly putting the necessary elements in place for our people to harness the benefits of a marijuana industry. Recall, Mr. Speaker, that on the 20th of February 2019, I gave an update to this Parliament on the submission to and deliberation of the Cabinet on the report from the Cannabis (Marijuana) Commission (henceforth referred to as the Marijuana Commission).
I reported that Cabinet had accepted the unanimous recommendations of the Marijuana Commission set out in paragraph A of Chapter XI of the said report. Nine (9) unanimous recommendations were highlighted. I promised that the Attorney General would in due course cause legislation to be brought to this Honourable National Assembly for passage. Less than three (3) months after 20th February 2019, the Office of the Attorney General has caused the Cannabis Bill, 2019 to be placed before this Parliament. I commend our hard-working drafting team and our Attorney General for their work to date. My statement here is intended solely to address policy issues that have shaped our legislative response and the evolution of that policy since February 20th, 2019.
Our Government has given further thoughts on the matter. We have listened to the views expressed and took note of other developments. We are determined to do right by our beloved people and Country.
Mr. Speaker, the Cannabis Bill, 2019 will reflect these necessary policy evolutions. It is a reformist and enlightened piece of legislation that appropriately responds to the popular will of the population and approximates to similar international developments in the U.S.A., Canada and Europe.
St. Kitts and Nevis Leading
Our aim is to place St. Kitts-Nevis among the most advanced and forward-looking countries in the world. While countries before us such as Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda and St. Vincent and the Grenadines have passed Cannabis Bills, our bill when it goes through Committee Stage will grant legislative approval for and regulate the use of cannabis for medicinal, religious and recreational purposes. It is intended that the use of marijuana for recreational purposes in the privacy of one’s home will not be a criminal offence.
Our policy today is the result of rigorous research and consultative work undertaken by the multi-sectoral National Commission on Cannabis, which tendered its broad-ranging and incisive report last January. The work was executed over a period of seventeen (17) months from October 2017 to January 2019. Members will recall that the Commissioners were drawn from various relevant professional disciplines: from the Church, the education field and various stakeholder and private sector agencies. Their widespread citizen research, critical examination of the international landscape and thoughtful recommendations inform and underpin this Bill. This Bill then is the people’s Bill, reflecting their views, preferences and values at this time.
The Commissioners’ meticulous work would have been a tribute to any society in the world.
Mr. Speaker, the Cannabis Bill, 2019, which flows from our policy prescriptions, is an item of law whose time has come. In my Ministerial Statement to the National Assembly on 20th February 2019, I signaled then that the historic Team Unity Government would move in accordance with the Report of the National Commission on Marijuana to legislate for the decriminalisation of marijuana for medical purposes and that we will overtime give consideration to extend that policy framework to marijuana cultivation and use for religious and recreational purposes within the context of one’s right to privacy and freedom of conscience.
Today is a red-letter day. Today, my Government will advance for the first reading the Cannabis Bill, 2019. In the not-too-distant future, the smallest country in the Western Hemisphere will provide a legal framework that represents a most modern and comprehensive response to the issues relating to the cultivation and use of marijuana.
While many countries have revamped their laws governing cultivation and use of cannabis, in keeping with the popular will of their respective nationals, St. Kitts-Nevis is still governed by the prohibitive Drugs Act of 1986. The Drugs Act forbids cultivation, possession and use of marijuana. In fact, those prohibitions date back to a predecessor law of 1937, some 82 years ago.
You would agree, Mr. Speaker, that some provisions of the Act are anachronistic and irrelevant in light of more recent scientific findings on cannabis use and of changes in societal norms.
This is borne out in the findings of the National Commission on Cannabis.
The St. Kitts-Nevis National Cannabis Commission discovered that nationals now have a much more liberal approach on all matters relating to cannabis, and they advocated a new legal and administrative regime.
The Commissioners found that 63.1% (of the participants in the Prevalence of Use Survey) wanted legislative change or amendments to the Drugs Act.
Over 50% felt that cannabis should be decriminalised/legalised for Medicinal purposes. With regards to Recreational use, 33.7% felt that there should be decriminalisation for recreational use and 28% felt it should be legalised for this purpose. Regarding Religious use, only 27% felt that there should be legalisation for sacramental reasons.
Through this Bill, we will be implementing the essential recommendations of the Commission and the broader societal views.
But the Bill also protects our youths, tightens the regulatory system and modernises and strengthens penalties for criminal offences.
NOT FREE FOR ALL
While we are happy to present a Bill that mirrors the revised national viewpoint on marijuana use, I signal a firm warning to those who would seek to illegally exploit the relaxation of our marijuana laws. Indeed, until the Cannabis Bill becomes law, the extant laws will remain as they are.
We have been reliably informed that certain international business predators and pirates, aided by unsavoury local elements, are positioning themselves to venture into plant cultivation, to the detriment of locals particularly our Rastafarian brethrens. Some of those actors are seen in photo ops with unpatriotic persons with a checkered past who see the freeing up of the herb as an opportunity for them to profit at the expense of our local people.
We are told that some among us are assuring foreign interests of preferential treatment in return for underhanded funding for their ambitious pursuits. Misguided local operatives are promising land giveaways of up to three hundred (300) acres to their friends and associates. Let me make it clear, this Government has not granted any license to anyone to import plants or seeds. The Government has not had any conversation with any foreigner about setting up businesses to trade in cannabis. It would be irresponsible for us to do at this time since there is still a lot of work to be done.
I wish to reaffirm today, Mr. Speaker, that non-nationals would not be permitted to secure advantages over nationals of our Federation as we set about to build out our marijuana industry. I also strenuously declare that those making such promises have no authority to do so and are not seeking the nation’s best interests. There is a callousness, which should be condemned, when persons charged to uphold the law encourage others to breach the law of the land.
The Government of St. Kitts-Nevis will be vigilant on this issue and would utilise relevant statutes to secure the welfare of our nationals and to keep out land grabbers and their illicit associates.
SELL-OUT OF OUR LANDS
I also advise our citizens to be watchful and wary of any persons who are seeking to consort with international operatives to rob us of our patrimony. It will not be the first time our lands are “poofed” out of local ownership and made available to foreign interests. Over one hundred (100) acres of our lands were made available to a foreigner for agricultural purposes at Belmont Estate while persons who are born here, Kittitians and Nevisians, struggle to get one (1) acre. The vesting of Certain Land Act placed lands outside of the scope of ordinary people to purchase them and the acquisition of eight hundred and fifty-two (852) acres at the South East Peninsula disadvantaged a son of the soil in Dr. Wycliff Baird. This sordid history of an unpatriotic era will never be repeated under Team Unity.
Any Benefit under the marijuana law must accrue to the local people. We find it offensive that people who formerly were in leadership positions should be inviting foreigners to come to St. Kitts and Nevis to cash in on the decriminalisation of marijuana to the disadvantage of our people. My Government will stand with our locals.
Mr. Speaker, the introduction of the Cannabis Bill is indeed a red-letter day in our Federation. It represents the timely and careful modernisation of our primary drugs legislation and places the law in sync with the pulse of our citizens.
I again thank all who have contributed to the updated policies and revised and enhanced law, in particular the members of the Marijuana Commission.
Mr. Speaker, may it please you.