The government of St. Kitts and Nevis has introduced legislation to decriminalize marijuana, tying the move to the dual-island nation’s history of slavery. In his Emancipation Day message, Prime Minister Dr. Timothy Harris said last week that his administration had introduced legislation to amend the Drugs (Prevention & Abatement of the Misuse and Abuse of Drugs) Act, which bans the cultivation, possession, and use of marijuana.

Harris added that the proposed amendments “could not have come at a better time than close to Emancipation Day, an emotionally significant day that signifies our freedoms and rights.”

Emancipation Day, which commemorates the abolition of slavery in the Caribbean, is celebrated in St. Kitts and Nevis on the first Monday and Tuesday of August. Harris said that there is no better time than the holiday “to acknowledge our painful history, take stock of where we are and make amends for past mistakes,” adding that “we owe it to ourselves, to the memory of our forebears and to our future generations.”

Harris said that “too many of our youth have been criminalized and incarcerated in relation to cannabis, and as a result, they have lost out on job and travel opportunities, opportunities to study abroad, a good future and a good name.”

To address the collateral damage of past convictions for minor marijuana offenses, Harris said the legislation would include provisions “to expunge the records of those criminalized.”

“We offer a fresh start to our people in a new era of enlightenment and engagement with cannabis,” he said. “We are committed to decriminalizing marijuana and in the near future expunging criminal records for related offenses of a certain degree while ensuring that the health and welfare of our nation’s children are protected.”

Legalization Committee Formed

After the statement from Harris, the government announced that a Cannabis Core Committee of experts had been established to provide guidance on legalization and the creation of a domestic cannabis industry.

Harris said that the committee will be chaired by Dr. Wycliffe Baird, who “has been involved with the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines with their cannabis legislation and industry and he has done work in Africa in relation to this, so he comes to the committee already prepared and knowledgeable with regard to this particular activity.”

Members of the committee will also include young people and representatives from the Christian Council, the Rastafarian community, the Chamber of Industry and Commerce, and the Office of the Attorney General.

“The establishment of a modern industry requires a lot of work and preparation and especially one which has to date been part and parcel of deeply held ideas regarding its use, its legitimacy, and even its legality a lot of work still remains to be done,” Harris told members of Parliament late last month.

Harris announced in February that his government would work to legalize medical marijuana and decriminalize cannabis for adult use.

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