Co-signed by Ruth Dreifuss, former President of Switzerland and Chair of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, the Most Hon. Portia Simpson-Miller, former Prime Minister of Jamaica, and Senator Mark Golding, former Minister of Justice of Jamaica
The Caribbean has been a major cocaine trafficking route for the last 50 years originating from outside the region, and many of its countries are now experiencing a problematic rise in the use of crack-cocaine.
Furthermore, the region produces cannabis for domestic consumption.
The responses to the drug problem in the Caribbean were and are still quite different from one country to the other.
Some, such as Jamaica in 2015, have decriminalised the personal use of cannabis. Others, such as those in the Dutch Caribbean, have prioritised health and harm reduction over punishment. The majority, however, still favour a zero-tolerance approach to drugs, supported by the anti-narcotics activities of the United States and other consumer nations.
The Caribbean is a kind of laboratory of all existing drug policies. There is the harm reduction approach favoured by Western Europe, prohibition as favoured by the majority of countries in the world, and supply reduction efforts such as those in Latin America.
Nevertheless, priorities are now shifting with the growing realisation that the war on drugs has not achieved the desired results.
Discussions on drug policy reform away from prohibition have been going on for several years, but never has the time appeared more favourable to enacting real change.
Caribbean nations are starting to innovate and introduce policies that respond to their local situation.
Having experimented with prohibition-based responses to drugs (many are faced with high levels of poverty and others are fragile states), these countries felt it was time to adapt the responses to their particular needs and not pursue a “societies without drugs” approach.
Jamaica has introduced a pragmatic form of decriminalisation of the possession of cannabis. Thousands of its citizens (mostly young men) no longer have the stigma of criminality and Rastafarian population is free to use cannabis as part of its cultural and religious rights.
Decriminalisation has also eased the pressure on Jamaica’s overburdened criminal courts as ticket fines are given for the possession of small amounts of cannabis. Jamaica has also regulated the medical cannabis and hemp markets.
Puerto Rico legalised cannabis use for medical reasons. The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago has started groundwork to decriminalise marijuana, and the heads of Caricom (Caribbean Community) are looking into marijuana policy reform and advising a change in its current drug classification.
All of these reforms would have been considered unimaginable only a short while ago.
Indeed, such changes follow the trend in Latin America, where in 2013, Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalise marijuana for recreational use, and Bolivia has implemented human-rights-based policies that recognise the traditional production and use of coca leaves, and poor coca producers and drug users as victims of the drug trade.
Other large nations are moving forward as well. Colombia and Mexico have regulated the medical cannabis market, while in Brazil the Supreme Court is renewing discussions regarding decriminalising the possession and use of drugs.
The sixth Latin American and first Caribbean Conference on Drug Policy taking place in Santo Domingo on October 5-6 provides an important and relevant space for discussing and evaluating drug policies.
There is no doubt that the time is right to push for the implementation of concrete evidence-based policies that encompass prevention, treatment and harm reduction alongside repression.
This conference provides a space for Caribbean governments, civil society, academia and people who use drugs to understand international drug policies, the impact of the international drug treaties on their realities, and to discuss what practical and concrete policies can be implemented.
Such a gathering also fills the gap created by the absence of Caribbean nations from the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), the UN leading commission on drug matters. In fact, out of the 20-plus countries, none has a physical presence in Vienna where the CND is based.
Given its strategic location, the Caribbean has suffered extensively from the unintended consequences of the “war on drugs” and can now take a leading role by balancing its policies between repression, harm reduction, human rights and treatment to those who need it.
As the world moves slowly away from placing repression and prohibition at the heart of drug policy, Caribbean nations should enhance the implementation of policies most suited to their situation. Policies which place human beings, their health and their safety, at the centre. Efficient and practical policies which are not dictated or inspired by failed prohibitionist strategies, especially in a region that has experienced the worst of five decades of fruitless war.
To read the original article in the Trinidad Express, please click here.