The year was 1979. St. Lucia, led by Premier John Compton, was on the verge of gaining independence from Britain. A campaigning St. Lucia Labour Party, led by former judge Allan Louisy, promised, among other things, to “free up the herb.” In July of that year, the island experienced its first general election as an independent nation. The Labour Party won 12 of the 17 seats in contention and soon after announced, in effect, that it never intended to legalize the use of marijuana; that their earlier promise was just another election ploy. “We want your minds intact,” said George Odlum, addressing a Mindoo Phillip Park gathering replete with expectant Rastafarians. “We want you to be fit to work!”
The new government would not last its full term, largely because of the fall-out of a so-called leadership struggle. By 1982 John Compton was back at the helm of the ship of state. And he had never made a secret about his anti-marijuana position. You could say that the marijuana dream of so many went up in smoke!
Before the 2016 general elections, speaking on the issue of decriminalizing marijuana, then opposition leader Allen Chastanet advised that his party was “reviewing the situation; certainly we are inclined to decriminalize marijuana. We think it is wrong that young people are going to prison for possession of small quantities of marijuana. Obviously these are decisions we cannot make by ourselves, and these are things that are going to require a referendum.”
True, Chastanet hardly came close to the open promises of the 1979 Labour Party that had proved hollow so after they were made. At a joint press conference of the Cannabis Movement and the Iyanola Council for the Advancement of Rastafari last Wednesday, Andre Decaires, chairman of the Movement, called upon the prime minister to “make a public statement regarding this administration’s intentions pertaining to cannabis law reform.” He added that the reformation of the cannabis laws was a campaign promise but now “the cannabis movement is getting mixed signals regarding the intentions of this administration.”
In responding to Mr. Decaires, the Minister of National Security, Mr. Hermangild Francis, confirmed that it is indeed the government’s intention to change the laws regarding marijuana, “but Mr. Decaires must understand that there is a process.” As far as Mr. Francis is concerned, the issue bigger than popularly envisaged. “Like we said,” he went on, “I’m not going to look at decriminalization or legalization but I am looking at legislation that will make things less onerous on the young people of this country. One change might be alternative sentencing, that you can have a certain quantity [of marijuana] for recreation or medical purposes.”
The minister believes Antigua model could possibly be adopted. “At the end of the day,” he went on, “we cannot just do it as a government; we have to get in touch with the people. I will be speaking to Mr. Philip J. Pierre, the leader of the opposition, and see whether we can come up with a collective decision.”