In Barbados, Rising Calls for Cannabis Legalization Debate

Will Barbados be the next Caribbean nation to expand its reforms beyond medical use? Federal agencies are dipping their toes into that conversation. 

This week, the National Council on Substance Abuse announced that it backs the request from Anthony Brancker, head of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry, for “serious discussion on establishing a recreational marijuana sector in search of economic drivers,” with the caveat that the NCSA seeks a “carefully crafted approach to the recreational use of marijuana as a driver of economic growth.” 

The NCSA acknowledged “some notable achievements on the therapeutic value of marijuana,” and referenced the December vote by the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs in favor of World Health Organization recommendations that suggested that be rescheduled in such a way that it is considered a medicine. (The vote was narrow, 27-25, with one abstention.)

But, the NCSA noted in a statement, “despite these achievements, a significant body of literature shows that the persistent smoking of marijuana leads to adverse health consequences,” from dependence to concerns over mental health. 

“Discussions on the economic benefits of marijuana should attempt to balance the potential profits from the cultivation and sale of marijuana with the type of prevention programmes consistent with deterring marijuana consumption, particularly among minors and adolescents,” the NCSA said in a statement, calling for public education campaigns and prevention efforts, as well as rules that “regulating the potency and purity of marijuana.” 

The path to cannabis law reform in Barbados has been far from smooth. Two pieces of legislation—the Medicinal Cannabis Industry Bill and the Sacramental Cannabis Bill—passed the Parliament of Barbados in 2019, but faced opposition from leaders of the country’s Christian community and the Barbados Road Safety Association, among others, as Cannabis Wire reported at the time

There have also been concerns over equity and lifting up indigenous and traditional farmers into the legal market. 

In January, Shantal Munro-Knight, chief executive officer of the Barbados Medicinal Cannabis Licensing Authority, held a series of news conferences to give updates on the state of medical cannabis in Barbados. 

Munroe-Knight wants Barbados to be a regional leader in the Caribbean when it comes to cannabis research and development, which is “being examined with the aid” of The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus.

“Of course, Barbados is small,” Munro-Knight said, referencing the work on medical cannabis that can take place at the university. “We don’t have the land space, as other bigger jurisdictions, so we had to think about what it is that we can offer the world… the intent is to work very closely with the Home Agricultural Station for that to become a centre of excellence for research in medicinal cannabis.” 

As far back as 2018, as Cannabis Wire reported, Prime Minister Mia Mottley proposed a referendum on decriminalizing personal of cannabis. The government has since shifted its approach, saying it would amend its Drug Abuse (Prevention And Control Act). Now, Branker, who took the post at the Chamber in June, is calling for conversation around a full adult use industry.  

Given that loosening cannabis laws could normalize cannabis consumption in the eyes of minors, the NCSA called out the potential for advertising and marketing to “unintentionally increase the recreational use of marijuana among children,” which is why the NCSA has already started educational campaigns. They are centered around discussing potential harms of consuming certain substances and how and why cannabis consumption for medical and non-medical purposes differ, and aimed at educating elementary and middle school students, their parents, school guidance counselors, and religious leaders. 

“Discussions on the economic benefits of marijuana should attempt to balance the potential profits from the cultivation and sale of marijuana with the type of prevention programmes consistent with deterring marijuana consumption, particularly among minors and adolescents,” the NCSA noted. 

The Council gave a number of recommendations to frame and facilitate the discussion on adult use cannabis legalization. Among them: a request that cannabis product labels clearly show additives and concentrates, including the “infusion of marijuana products with alcohol or nicotine.” The NCSA also requested that regulators impose a “maximum THC concentration,” and more public education and “robust” discussion about benefits and adverse effects of cannabis consumption. 

The NCSA also seeks to “identify specific medical conditions applicable to prescription marijuana and protect the rights of prescription marijuana users and the rights of employers to dismiss workers for accidents in the workplace because of an employee’s current marijuana use.” 

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