By BERT WILKINSON
2014-03-09 03:22 AM
GEORGETOWN, Guyana (AP) -- Researchers with a Caribbean trade bloc have found that decriminalizing marijuana and exploring its use for medicinal purposes could help boost the region's sluggish economy.
Caricom leaders are expected to talk about the preliminary report in a two-day summit that begins Monday in the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent. The report was released Friday to The Associated Press.
Experts said the Caribbean already has a built-in competitive advantage with marijuana cultivation, noting that Jamaican researchers have launched a company that produces therapeutic and cosmetic products derived from the plants.
"The region may wish therefore to explore any commercial benefit from a potential multi-billion industry including research and development and also the production of medical marijuana products," the report stated.
Activists in Jamaica, St. Lucia and other islands have pushed to legalize marijuana use, with Jamaica's health minister recently stating he was "fully on board" with medical marijuana. However, many in the Caribbean still consider it a dangerous drug, and marijuana possession can lead to jail time and stiff fines across the region.
Caricom spokesman Leonard Robertson said leaders would examine the report next week, but noted it is not a key issue on the agenda. His comments were echoed by others including St. Vincent Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves.
Marijuana has been decriminalized in other parts of the Western Hemisphere.
Uruguay recently became the first country to approve nationwide pot legalization, while the U.S. states of Washington and Colorado passed recreational laws in 2012. In addition, 20 U.S. states and the District of Columbia already have medical marijuana laws.