The Rastafarian Community continues to be up in arms and the people of St. Kitts and Nevis are outraged by the continued dishonesty of this administration. Last week’s sitting of the National Parliament on Wednesday was a fiasco and a sham. Speaker Perkins and the Prime Minister colluded to shut out the Parliamentary Opposition from making a contribution during the sitting of the National Assembly to prevent them from debating the Bill to amend the Drugs Act.
Again and again the nepotistic and dictatorial Prime Minister shows us that he cannot tolerate any form of criticism, not even to allow healthy debate that would include Opposition voices about the bill.
The Drugs Act Amendment Bill was passed in contravention of the rules of the House as the Opposition were deliberately misled as to the time when the Parliament would reconvene. After Tuesday’s early adjournment, Parliamentarians were told Wednesday morning that the debate would resume first at 10:00 am, then at 1.30 pm Wednesday afternoon, but the House resumed earlier and the Speaker allowed Dr. Harris, the mover of the legislation, to wrap up the debate prematurely without giving opposition parliamentarians a chance to speak and although several members of the government benches had not made presentations.
The Attorney General and Senator Wendy Phipps were the only two parliamentarians from the government side to present on the Bill. PM Harris stood up to close the debate and ranted for almost an hour talking about how much his government stood for democracy, while in that very moment he was doing something most UNDEMOCRATIC – preventing the Opposition from debating the Bill.
Last week’s sneaky Parliament demonstrates, yet again, the outright hypocrisy and blatant dishonesty and deception of the Team Unity administration. When would the Prime Minister and his sycophant cabinet ministers recognize that good governance is good governance and bad governance is bad governance? How long will Harris continue to make excuses for his poor governance by pointing to what he claims was done under the former Administration? If PM Harris knows better, then he should lead by example and DO better.
The people of St. Kitts and Nevis after four and a half years are still waiting for this Harris led coalition government to do better.
The reason Dr. PM Harris did not allow the parliamentary opposition to debate the Amendment Bill is because he knew that the Amendment Bill was a fraudulent bill designed to give citizens the false impression that this government is serious about decriminalization of marijuana use, both for personal as well as religious use.
The Amendment Bill does not decriminalize anything. Again, Harris continues to try to mislead people and he doesn’t care that in misleading individuals he may cause someone to go to jail.
“This Bill does not in any way, shape or form speak to the issues that the people of this country are facing with regard to marijuana use. We believe that the government has no intention of changing the status quo. We have heard Dr. Harris just weeks before the conclusion of the National Commission’s work, give his personal view and thus spoke on behalf of the government in a town hall meeting when he said he was against it and he said that his government is not going to tolerate it…His voice is heard clearly condemning those who use marijuana for all purposes. He is against it. What transpired over the two days of Parliament is a clear indication that this government intends to maintain the status quo. What is the status quo? To arrest persons who use marijuana,” said the Leader of the Opposition, the Rt. Honourable Dr. Denzil Douglas during “Issues”, a radio call-in programme aired every Wednesday on Freedom FM at 1:30 pm .
“Within this very piece of legislation debated Tuesday and Wednesday [of last week], it states very clearly that the penalties that will be meted out for persons who violate the law by being in possession of 15 grams or less (the penalty for carrying more would be more severe) and are caught smoking in certain areas will be immediately fined. If you cannot pay that fine you will be asked to do some form of community work. If you cannot pay the fine or refuse to pay, you will be sent to prison. No matter how long the prison sentence, it is still a prison sentence. Therefore the society will condemn those persons who would have gone to prison for smoking marijuana…these persons will be condemned by the general public as being unfit for society, they will still have their records besmirched, they still won’t be able to get jobs, the still won’t be able to get a visa and so nothing would have been changed,” continued the exasperated parliamentarian.
Harris went to parliament claiming that he is decriminalizing marijuana, yet the amount of marijuana that an individual can carry could still land him/her in jail.
This is not change, this the status quo.
Harris said that he is going to defend the religious rights of the Rastafarian Community to use marijuana for religious purposes yet if the same Community wants to cultivate the crop they would have to first seek permission from the Minister to get a license to do so.
This is not change, this is the status quo.
This Amendment Bill was just more of the same.
“What we are seeing from Dr. Harris and his government is a very feeble attempt to respond to a court order that was given from the High Court. If there was no order from the court, all of the talk and the hype that this Team Unity government has created about changing its attitude towards marijuana would mean nothing! They only rushed to parliament because a judge gave them a deadline to change the laws to respect the religious and human rights of the Rastafarian community,” concluded the opposition leader.
The Team Unity Government was never serious about the decriminalization of marijuana. The only reason that a National Commission on Marijuana was established here in St. Kitts and Nevis was because this was MANDATED by the 25th Intercessional Meeting of CARICOM Heads of Government in March 2014, (in which Dr. Douglas played an integral role). This meeting called for the establishment of a Regional Commission on Marijuana to coordinate national consultations and conduct the research necessary to provide clear guidance to heads of government as to how to effectively conduct reforms that could ultimately lead to the decriminalization or possibly legalization of marijuana.
Even after receiving this directive from CARICOM, it took the Harris administration three whole years to establish the National Marijuana Commission in April 2018 and Harris did everything he could to undermine that process.
The decriminalization of marijuana was never a commitment of Team Unity – it was not part of their 2015 manifesto.
Harris convened a National Marijuana Commission under duress because he had to meet his obligations under CARICOM, this is the only reason. This is why Harris made those comments that he made. This is why the Attorney General fought Ras Sankofa in his constitutional challenge to the government rather than acknowledging his human rights from the outset.
Now that we are nearing an election this is yet another political stunt to give the public the impression that Team Unity is doing something progressive on the marijuana issue. Neither the Amendment Bill nor the first version of the Cannabis Bill deals with this issue properly. In fact, many of the recommendations made by the National Marijuana Commission in their report to the Cabinet have not made it into either Bill.
There are at least FIVE recommendations that the National Marijuana Commission made that have not been dealt with:
- The National Commission called for the redefinition and removal of marijuana from the aegis of the Drugs Act and for the creation of an entirely NEW act to deal with the issue;
- It called for a reduction in penalties for possession of small quantities which did NOT include prison time;
- It called for the expungement of the records of persons under 25 who were convicted of possession of small quantities;
- It also called for the expungement of the records of persons over 25 whose only offense was possession of small quantities of marijuana;
- It called for respect for and recognition of the rights of Members of the Rastafarian community to use marijuana in their rituals as long as it did not take place in a public place.
Neither the Amendment Bill that was passed last week, nor the Cannabis Bill included these recommendations put forward by the National Marijuana Commission. So what was the point of establishing a National Commission?
Now that the Rastafarian Community has come out vocally and rejected the Bill, Harris is talking about having a town hall to consult with them again. He has sent the Cannabis Bill back into committee to deal with expungement of criminal records. He is doing this after, as usual, getting it ALL WRONG the first time
Harris got the roofing programme all wrong. He got the PAP all wrong. Once again, with the Cannabis Bill, he has to go back to the drawing board. This incompetent administration doesn’t appear to be able to get anything right the first time. This is because Harris does not make policy based on what is good for the people, he makes policy based on what is politically expedient for himself and his administration.
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