Cannabis activists in Saint Lucia want the government to decriminalize the drug.
There is a growing movement for cannabis legalization in the Caribbean, and over the weekend proponents of the drug took to the streets and demanded their government modernize its approach to drug policy by recognizing the medicinal and religious value of marijuana.
Organizers of the Cannabis March in the southern town of Soufriere say there has been far too much talk and no action on the issue.
“We want the government to look at a change in the laws more seriously. We’d love it to be a political issue,” said Andre Decaires, former president of the so-called Cannabis Movement. He says decriminalization is a good first step toward the eventual legislation of the drug.
“I am hoping that we can open a really serious debate about whether we should have people going to jail for possession of cannabis as a start. The march was wonderful and the message is gaining ground. Decriminalizing marijuana could lead to the start of a hemp fashion industry, medical breakthroughs, religious freedoms and economic success.”
WATCH: Movement Fights for Decriminalization of Cannabis in St. Lucia
Members of the Rastafarian community came out in large numbers to support the event. While Rastafarians use marijuana in religious ceremonies, they say the plant is also important for health and to help heal the economy.
“It has commercial value. Another reason is for religious value. Another reason is for recreation, because most of our members like to sit and smoke a joint, but the biggest reason for us, we as a Rastafarian organisation, we as a religious group, we want it as a sacrament,” said Michael Andrew, Chairman of the Iyanola Council for the Advancement of Rastafari in Saint Lucia.
Saint Lucia’s Minister for Social Transformation Harold Dalsan said it is time to make marijuana an issue of personal choice for the masses.
“I am not smoking marijuana. I will not tell my children to smoke marijuana. It’s a choice that you have to make. We have to give people the choice. Particularly with respect to the new discoveries that are being made about marijuana. Particularly with what is happening on the global scene,” he told the gathering.
In 2014, the 15-country CARICOM bloc established a Cannabis Commission, but critics say the group has made little progress on the issue.
Jamaica has taken the lead in the Caribbean. The country has already decriminalized marijuana in small quantities and last week told the United Nations that the classification of Cannabis as a "dangerous drug with no medical use," which dates back to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, is "outdated and out of touch.”
Organizers of the Cannabis March are hoping to transform the event into an annual festival. They say momentum is growing, as the world wakes up to the benefits of marijuana, and it is time for the Caribbean to get on board with the movement.