Ganja activist Marcus Ramkissoon. Photo by David Reid
Ganja activist Marcus Ramkissoon is happy the House of Representatives, on Friday last week, passed the Cannabis Control Bill 2020 which, he says, includes some of his “unique work.”
However, the activist for the decriminalisation of cannabis and the establishment of a domestic medicinal cannabis industry believes the bill has many “conceptual and legislative mistakes.”
A media statement from Ramkissoon said over 20 major amendments could be made to make the bill feasible and functional. He said such changes would allow the classification of cannabis medicine into prescription-only medication and over-the-counter drugs.
The bill regulates the commercialisation of marijuana.
Ramkissoon said major issues in the bill include a lack of separation of prescribable and non-prescribable medicinal cannabis. The bill includes measures that allow medicinal cannabis to be obtained through both a medical prescription and a medical recommendation, as well as provisions for medicinal cannabis to be dispensed in pharmacies and licensed dispensaries.
He added that there is no difference between prescription or recommended medicinal cannabis and medicinal cannabis sold in pharmacies and dispensaries.
The activists charged that the bill lacks provisions that can be found in the Antigua and Barbuda legislation defining and providing for prescribable and non-prescribable medicinal cannabis.
Prescribable medicinal cannabis include oils, tinctures, capsules and other non-intoxicating products.
Non-prescribable medicinal cannabis include cannabis flowers and raw extracts.
Ramkissoon recalled that opposition MP Rushton Paray in the Parliament on April 20 questioned the difference between a pharmacy and a licensed cannabis dispensary.
He said the Health Minister responded that the dispensary in the bill has the same meaning as in pharmacy law and represents that part of a registered pharmacy where prescription medicine is dispensed.
Ramkissoon accused the minister of contradicting his views in the response.
He said, “His answer is conceptually wrong as the medicinal cannabis dispensary is meant to be a separate entity from a registered pharmacy.”
Ramkissoon said international law represents the highest law in a signatory country in the form of ratified treaties. All domestic laws, including constitutional law, need to be written, amended, or interpreted to comply with international law.
He said contrary to the explanation of the former Attorney General in his wind-up contribution to the bill, the international law obligations take effect upon ratification of the treaty, whether the signatory country has corresponding laws.
“Regardless of the international law, what have we really allowed for the religious organisations such as the Rastafari organisations?” Ramkissoon said.
“They have expressed three main desires over the years – to be able to grow and use cannabis at their homes for religious purposes; to be able to grow and use cannabis at their place of worship for religious purposes, and to be able to engage in the profitable cannabis business.”
The decriminalisation of cannabis in 2019 allowed them to grow and use cannabis at home for religious purposes.
This bill allows for cultivation and use at a registered place of worship. But the authority could have easily achieved this through an order to the Dangerous Drugs Act, the cannabis policy adviser said.
“It is my opinion that we have totally patronised these religious organisations in this regard by allowing them to trade in cannabis while prohibiting them from making any profits.”
In terms of tracking and monitoring, Ramkissoon said the bill lacks provisions for a Government-approved and operated universal tracking system, sometimes called a “seed to sale” track-and-trace system.
“The system even tracks patient purchases and can alert the authority if a patient is purchasing an excessive amount within a specified period, warranting an investigation,” he said.
“Provisions are also made to address video monitoring of cannabis operations to prevent product diversion.”
He said the bill allows Caricom citizens to be 30 per cent equity owners in any licensed medicinal cannabis business.
Ramkissoon said, “A more inclusive social equity programme has to be established in the primary legislation. Such a programme has been submitted to the former AG in 2019 but does not appear in this bill.”
He charged that the bill has numerous other issues that need to be addressed but could be fixed with regulations.