The Caribbean nation of St. Kitts and Nevis announced major drug policy reforms last week that will legalize medicinal cannabis and decriminalize recreational use by adults. In a statement before the National Assembly on February 20, Prime Minister Timothy Harris said that his cabinet had accepted the unanimous recommendations from the National Marijuana Commission and would introduce the bills required to make them law. The commission has been exploring options for cannabis policy reform through a series of public forums since 2017.
“This is a significant development done after 15 months of widespread consultations in Nevis and St. Kitts. We thank Dr. Hazel Laws and the entire National Commission for their excellent work,” Harris said.
The recommendations call for legislation creating a strictly regulated program for the use of cannabis and its derivatives for medicinal and scientific purposes. A licensing authority would be created to regulate cannabis cultivation, manufacturing, and importation. Two tiers of cannabis practitioners would be established, herbalists for nonprescription marijuana products and medical practitioners for prescription cannabis medications, which would be required to comply with international labeling standards.
Harris said that his cabinet had also approved the recommendation to decriminalize small quantities of recreational pot, including cultivation.
“Those found with under 15 grams of cannabis or growing less than 5 plants would receive ticketable offenses only, and of course, their criminal record would not reflect adversely with respect to these,” said Harris.
The recommendations also include provisions to expunge records for similar convictions and release those serving time for decriminalized offenses.
“Those currently in prison on convictions for small amounts of 15 grams should have their sentences reviewed and anyone convicted for such small amounts would have their conviction records appropriately cleared up,” Harris said.
The prime minister noted that some prohibitions against pot will remain in place.
“The use of cannabis in public places will continue to be a serious offense and we will seek also to prohibit the sale or use of cannabis by persons under the age of 18 years old,” he said.
Harris also called for the enactment of penalties for driving under the influence of cannabis. A public information campaign on the benefits and risks of cannabis use and potential harm associated with use by young people would be created before changes in the law are enacted. And he noted that his government is only enacting the unanimous recommendations from the commission, and would consider those not approved by the entire panel, including the legalization of cannabis for religious and recreational purposes, at a later date.
“The Cabinet considers therefore that a phased approach is advisable taking the unanimous recommendations of the Commission as our first steps and thereafter consider the other areas on which unanimity could not be achieved, and that would be the prudent approach to take,” he said.
Harris said that approving the commission’s recommendations was the beginning of a process, with much work left to be done.
“The acceptance of these recommendations put forward unanimously by the National Marijuana Commission portends some fundamental changes to existing laws in St. Kitts and Nevis which the Cabinet will have to consider carefully and consult further on.”