No enthusiasm in St. Maarten parliament for legalizing marijuanaPOSTED: 05/23/16 6:49 PM
St. Maarten News – There is no great enthusiasm in the parliament for legalizing marijuana. That is the conclusion of yesterday’s meeting where Freedom Fighters Foundation President Roland Joe, aka Bushman, accompanied by archeologist Dr. Jay Haviser, Dr. Dan Johnson and realtor Arun Jagtiani made his case in favor of legalizing.
The only one who stood up for legalization was UP-MP Tamara Leonard, who said that she is benefiting for using medical marijuana. Dr. Lloyd Richardson had medical and social objections, Johan Leonard was dead against, George Pantophlet was “neither for or against” at this stage and Sarah Wescot-Williams thought it a good idea to put the question to the population in a referendum, but only once said population was properly educated about the issue.
Archeologist Dr. Jay Haviser opened the floor with a strong statement about civil liberties. “I believe strongly that individuals have the right to do to their own body and practice personal behavior as they choose in the privacy of their home without government intervention. It is up to individuals to decide what they want to do with their bodies – be it in healthcare, religion or personal behavior – as long as this does not negatively affect the greater society.”
Haviser described the consumption of cannabis as “a victimless crime,” adding that “the use of cannabis is not for everyone, yet it is a purely natural product with important medical benefits that should not be denied to those who choose to use it.”
The archeologist continued with an impressive overview of the history of cannabis. Introduced in the Caribbean in 1830 by East Caribbean Indians, the plant was used for medical purposes. This was also the case in the Middle East and Asia, “for more than 3,000 years.”
In the United States, farmers in the 18th century were required to grow cannabis hemp for food and textile productions and for medicine.
But between 1915 and 1927 the sentiment towards cannabis changed in the US when ten states outlawed the stuff. By 1950, the US even considered cannabis “a dangerous drug” and it took another quarter of a century before the Netherlands became the first country in the world to decriminalize cannabis in 1976.
In 1996 California legalized medical marijuana and by 2013, 23 states had followed its example. Four US states and all Indian reservations have fully legalized the use of cannabis by now and 37 countries have decriminalized possession of cannabis for personal use, Haviser said.
He likened cannabis to the local consumption of bush tea and noted that in the 18th century, “according to old maid’s tales” the tomato plant was believed to be poisonous and referred to as the devil’s apple.
Haviser said that the media since the 1930s have contributed to the negative reputation of cannabis by describing it as dangerous and evil. “In reality, cannabis is far less dangerous than alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceutical prescription drugs.”
Haviser suggested the establishment of a state-of-the art agricultural station to put local cannabis cultivation on a proper footing.
Arun Jagtiani basically repeated the presentation he gave during a forum about legalization that took place in June of last year at the Belair Community Center. From a business point of view, there is a lot to be said for legalization. Jagtiani estimates that a local industry could amount to $19.5 million annually, create 100 local jobs and generate close to a million in turnover taxes.
“Marijuana is the fastest growing industry in the United States and in St. Maarten there is already an industry for recreational use,” he said. “We’re only not collecting taxes on it. How could medical marijuana even be an issue today? The discussion is way past that point. People ought to have access to medical marijuana if it benefits them medically. In the United Stated and Canada, 52 percent of the population is living in states where medical marijuana is available.”
Jagtiani told the parliament that the country ought to pay keen attention to global trends and their potential impact on the country. “People holding medical marijuana cards in the US and Canada may not want to vacation in places that do not accommodate them and where they have to go into dark alleys to obtain their marijuana.”
Though legalized marijuana is becoming mainstream in the US, federal legislation still hampers cannabis-related research, Jagtiani said, adding that this offers opportunities for St. Maarten. “What if we invite a large pharmaceutical company to set up shop and do that research here?” he said.
Jagtiani said that the marijuana industry in the US has grown from $4 billion in 2014 to $5.6 billion last year and that it is expected to surpass $10 billion by 2018. “Colorado recorded $1 billion in sales in 2015; $600 million was for recreational use and $400 million for medical use.”
Jagtiani said that legalization would have an impact on the tourism industry on several levels. For medical marijuana it would sustain visitor levels and for recreational use it could see a temporary increase. “But it is not like we’re going to attract a Woodstock-crowd,” he pointed out. “”Recreational use is much more sophisticated than that these days. You find users across the board, from doctors and lawyers to politicians and real estate agents.”
In the business model Jagtiani outlined, the local marijuana industry could generate $3 million annually from marijuana passes, whereby the industry would voluntarily donate 20 percent – $600,000 – to programs for troubled youth.
The model is based on licensed marijuana farmers and licensed retailers; consumers would have to obtain an ID-card that authorizes them to buy marijuana; the fees for these cards – for 1-day, 1-month and annual purchases would generate $3 million alone. Retail sales would amount to an estimated $19.5 million, thus generating $945,000 in turnover taxes.
“If it is done responsibly, it is positive,” Jagtiani said. He suggested adding the question about legalization to the ballot in September. UP-MP Tamara Leonard said later that his is an excellent idea but that it would most likely have to be organized separately.
MP Dr. Lloyd Richardson said he had heard nothing about controls in the presentation and he did not take a liking to Haviser’s allusion to civil liberties and the right to do want one wants with one’s body. “That could take us straight to the issues of euthanasia and abortion,” he warned.
Setting up the industry in a responsible way requires educating farmers, Richardson said, adding that “nobody wants to talk about the damages” that in his mind would come with legalization.
“Our job is to first change the mindset of our people,” he concluded, indicating that as far as he is concerned, legalization is a long way away.
“For forty years I have been combating drug users,” UP-MP and former police officer Johan Leonard said. “And now I have to change my mind on this topic. That is very difficult for me.”
Leonard referred to cannabis as “a gateway drug” and wondered if legalization would lead to the use of hard drugs like cocaine and heroin.
“Do you seriously think St. Maarten will legalize marijuana?” he said to the Freedom Fighters delegation.
Leonard admitted that his grandchildren are using marijuana. “They become violent as soon as they start using it. They become uncontrollable,” he said.
Sarah Wescot-Williams’ main question was about priorities. “I received messages ahead of this session where people asked me: is this the priority of the government? And then they gave me a list of things the government should do.”
Wescot-Williams is in favor of a referendum on the topic, but not when people are insufficiently prepared to make a well-informed choice.
“I don’t believe this discussion is premature,” UP-MP Tamara Leonard said. “Taking it to the people – brilliant, though I think we have to do this separate from the elections. I don’t believe cannabis is any kind of drug; we have to evolve with the rest of the world.”