BVI News

Health minister wants marijuana decriminalized

File photo.

File photo.

The call for the decriminalization of marijuana is gaining momentum in the British Virgin Islands (BVI); this as a second lawmaker this week used the territory’s parliament to call for persons caught using the substance to avoid getting criminal records.

Minister of Health and Social Development Ronnie Skelton urged his colleagues to find a better way to address the issue, adding that the current war on drugs is not effective.

He added that it does not make sense to lock up young people for marijuana, considering that they are prone to making ‘simple mistakes’.

“[Some] young people do foolishness… We all know we could have gotten into trouble if we didn’t have people to look out for us. So I want us a group of adults to pay attention… Those of us who will reach them, let us reach them,” Skelton told his colleagues during his contribution to the 2017 Budget Debate.

He further said: “We need to continue to do that (give young people a chance) until they get out of that place where they are at 15 to 18 years. We need to try to help. If they get locked up for a joint or two; it ends up spoiling their record. Somewhere along the line indeed what we’re doing ain’t working.”

Skelton further stated that, when young people end up with criminal records for the recreational use of marijuana, it negatively affects them for a lifetime.

“Let us stop criminalizing the young people. Let us find a way or something; it’s not working; it’s spoiling their future for the rest of their life – and for minor stuff,” he continued.

“Even in the great United States, the war on drugs locking up everybody for minor recreational use of marijuana; it’s not working; its not working. So we need to come up with something. We need to not criminalize the recreational use or something. I know this is a road you might not want to go on, but we need to do something because it’s not helping us; the war on drugs is not working; it’s a constant.”

Marijuana versus alcohol

The health minister, in the meantime, noted that the consumption of alcohol once was illegal.

He went on to state that, today, alcohol is widely consumed legally.

He questioned if alcohol is any better than marijuana.

“In the days of prohibition, we were not there. We see the movies; we read the stories. We must ask ourselves the question: which one is worse? Alcohol or marijuana? I don’t know. But I know we consume a lot of alcohol. And during the days of prohibition, this was illegal.”

“These are things that happened and it ain’t too far away; it was in the 50s. So we need to step back and have a look. Let’s put our brains together. We have a lot of bright people in this country. Let us put our brains together,” Skelton further told lawmakers.

Health Minister Ronnie Skelton. File photo

Health Minister Ronnie Skelton. File photo

Days before Skelton called for the decriminalization of marijuana, Junior Minister of Trade Marlon Penn did the same.

But Penn emphasized that, while he supports decriminalization, he does not think marijuana should be legalized at this time.

“The whole issue of alternative sentencing; that is something that we need to look at premier. We need to seriously – as legislators – look at the decriminalization of marijuana; that is a conversation that we need to have. We are sending our young men to jail for a drug,” Penn had said.

He continued: “I did some research. If you look at the countries around the world – First World countries [and] second world countries – all of these nations have decriminalized it because they realized that economically it doesn’t make sense.”

Meanwhile, Premier Dr D Orlando Smith last month told journalists that his government has been discussing the possible decriminalization of marijuana.

“As we discuss it further, maybe there will be a time when there will be a Cabinet paper about it. But there has been discussion about that. For example, the question of persons who are incarcerated for just smoking a joint; that is something that’s actually being discussed,” Premier Smith said in response to a question a journalist posed last month.

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