Move is afoot in the Territory to influence the decriminalization of cannabis and it was disclosed that an amendment in this regard was already sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Kim Hollis QC for her input as well as other persons for expert opinions on the matter. However, the DPP who was invited by the Rotary Club of Tortola to speak on the matter announced that BVI should weigh the pros and cons of cannabis decriminalization well before making the decision; which she says can have irreversible social implications.
While speaking at the Rotary Club of Tortola’s weekly luncheon on July 12 the DPP mentioned that the British Virgin Islands like a number of countries in the region is contemplating the decriminalization of the personal possession of cannabis. She noted that the amendment to allow this move has been directly imported from Bermuda.
The Proposed Decriminalization Amendment
The DPP said that she was asked to give her opinion on the amendment which would legalize the statutory amount of seven grams of cannabis for personal possessions. “Nothing to do with supply, just seven grams of cannabis for personal use
While publicly, and even officially the push for cannabis to be legalized in some form or aspect appeared to be just a conversation being conducted on various levels. The proposed amendment adds seriousness to the conversation. The DPP said that the proposed amendment is “is out for consultation, it has got that far and hence I was asked to write a paper in my capacity as DPP. All the various agencies and government departments who would have an input are being consulted; that’s the first thing.”
According to Hollis the persons interested in cannabis decriminalization are following a process, however she noted that those putting forward the amendment are currently unknown: “At the moment, as I have said there is a consultation paper out …Therefore it means that there is also a proposal as to whether or not we should legalize cannabis. I don’t know where that proposal is coming from. I just got sent the paper, and asked for my views. I am not a politician, and I am not going to be dragged into it.”
The proposed decriminalization amendment is said to have been taken entirely from Bermuda’s law books and as such the DPP explained that the document as it stands cannot cover the intricate areas that would need addressing in order for such an amendment to make sense in the BVI.
“At the moment it seems that the BVI has just wholesale taken the amendment from Bermuda and wants to put it into our legislation, but what I want everyone to think about is the effects…It does need to be really stringently regulated, and we need to have all the other things in support.”
The DPP noted that it was not a question of whether one was for or against the decriminalization of cannabis but a matter of impact such an undertaking would have on the Territory: “It is not just the question of let’s all decriminalize cannabis, I want everyone to understand – there is a lot more to the argument; and there are a lot of things that need to be considered. Otherwise 10 or 15 years down the line people will suddenly say — why didn’t we think of that.”
Weighing the Costs
Although she pointed out that she was not an economist, Hollis opined that those aiming to plunge into the new marijuana industry as a local revenue stream should contemplate the societal bearing of such a decision.
“In relations to the economic advantages, I understand, and I believe although I haven’t really gone into this in great details because after all – I am not into economics and finance, I am more into crime. I believe that there is an economic advantage to it, and a very good economic advantage to it, but if you did the sum, I would like to see that being balanced against the necessary input in relations to the cost of actually balancing as it were because of regulation and the medical facilities and matters such as that,” she said.
The DPP opined that the consultation that is going on ought to be widened; and the financial implications should be properly looked at balancing those implications by consulting experts in the area of health, social development and other agencies such as that. Further Hollis suggested that there be age limitations which start at around 20 to 21 years-old.
Some persons in the community are of the opinion that decriminalization of cannabis/marijuana for personal use would include having a small plant to use as desired. However, the DPP stated that from what she has noted cultivation of this herb will remain a crime.
“At the moment as far as I am aware, the amendment that I have seen is silent in relation to cultivation and production and therefore I noted that as the amendment remained silent then the present legislation would still apply. Namely it would be illegal to produce and cultivate, but that is something for everybody to resolve because like I said they just seemed to have lifted it from Bermuda and wanted to bring it into the British Virgin Islands,” she noted.
The DPP also announced that she does not comprehend how the suggested amount for personal use was decided. “The amount of seven grams I don’t understand where the amount of seven grams came from. At the moment people go around with dime bags. When they are told that they can have seven grams, it means that they would just divide it in such a way that they would have ten dime bags on them of just under a gram each. Therefore, they would have a $100 worth of cannabis on then and then it would be up to me to decide whether or not I would charge them with intent to supply, and the answer will always be yes,” she explained.
The DPP also mentioned that in other places it has been noted that “the decriminalization has already apparently led to organized criminal groups now refocusing on manufacturing and trafficking other illegal drugs such as heroine. In other words, it is beginning to open the flood gate.”