By Shermain Bique-Charles
Parliamentary representative for Barbuda Trevor Walker has called on legislators, particularly Attorney General Steadroy Benjamin, to revisit amendments within the Misuse of Drugs Act 2018 to address the use of marijuana by youngsters.
Walker said since legal changes decriminalised the possession of up to 15 grams of cannabis, many students have been seen and caught smoking in public, including on school compounds.
Despite the relaxation on possessing weed, smoking it is still not allowed in most public places.
“What you find happening is that youngsters in our primary and secondary schools have been exposed to this notion that they are allowed to have four plants or five plants, and they could smoke marijuana as they wish.
“I have seen it in Barbuda,” Walker told Parliament on Tuesday.
He is recommending laws be updated to increase the age at which one can legally smoke marijuana, as well as provisions for monitoring such at all learning institutions.
“We have to address this issue because this thing is affecting 12 and 13-year-olds. How can a brain develop at that stage to deal with that situation?
“We are going to end up with a lost generation. It [smoking pot] seems to be the ‘in thing’; we see them on the blocks in our constituencies,” Walker said.
Under current laws, anyone older than 18 is allowed to possess a maximum of 15 grams of cannabis, and it is also lawful to cultivate up to four plants per household.
But Walker told Parliament that many young people erroneously believe that they can “light a spliff anywhere and anyhow”.
“We have youngsters smoking marijuana in schools. They smoke in the bathroom at lunchtime. I supported the bill [when it was tabled] but we cannot allow it to negatively impact our youngers,” he added.
His comments come in the wake of those from a number of health professionals who have expressed concern about the psychological impact of widely available super-strength weed on young people’s mental wellbeing.
Although marijuana is decriminalised in Antigua and Barbuda, the drug remains illegal.
Legalisation means that a once-banned drug becomes legal under the law. Decriminalisation means that a once-banned drug is still prohibited by law, but the legal system will no longer prosecute or criminalise a person for carrying less than a certain amount.
In the case of the twin island nation, cannabis sales remain illegal. In addition, smoking marijuana is prohibited in most public places, including bars, restaurants, and tourist establishments. The latter, however, may set aside “open areas” where guests can smoke cannabis.