Cannabis farming, animal cruelty laws among US Party focus points

PHILIPSBURG– A tolerance policy for the decriminalisation of possession, use and cultivation of cannabis, permitting cannabis farming for medicinal and recreational purposes, and pursuing a law on animal cruelty are amongst the many issues on which United St. Maarten Party (US Party) wants to focus this year.
The party said work on some of the projects in its 2021 plan of action began in 2020, and it intends to have them completed during the course of this year.
An Animal Cruelty Law is one of the projects on the list. This law already exists in parts of the country’s penal code. Aruba has a more in-depth law with a penalty section. The faction intends to review this law to establish whether there is a need to implement a similar law with adaptations that are best suitable for St. Maarten. Discussions with stakeholders and revision of the Aruban laws have already taken place.
The law will safeguard animals’ rights and prevent cruelty to certain domesticated animals such as dogs, cats and horses. The law to protect the shark species are already on the books, while specific emphasis will be placed on having dolphins in enclosures such as dolphinariums, etc., not allowed. The allowing of zoos will also be reviewed as the party is of the opinion that animals belong in the wild and not in cages.
From the aspect of food security and strengthening the economy in the field of agriculture and fisheries, the party is confident that this sector can be beneficial both financially and health-wise. Small-scale personal gardening is already a new phenomenon on the island for those with the space to do so.
The requisition of domain land to accommodate professional and personal agriculture is a possibility being considered to further discuss also with the Ministry of Public Housing, Spatial Planning, Environment and Infrastructure VROMI.
Cannabis farming for medicinal and recreational purposes is another sector that can be a new pillar for the country’s economic diversification, US Party said. Presently the faction is seeking collaboration with the parliaments and governments in Aruba and Curaçao who are much further with legislation and permitting of such farming, especially medicinal cannabis.
“Agriculture through technology will be a beneficial source for food security, thus also benefiting the hospitality sector … . It will probably be necessary to bring in specialists from abroad to assist in this area,” it was stated in a release.
“A more in-depth working relationship with experts from the Netherlands (University of Wageningen) must also be collaborated. The University of St. Martin and the agriculture sector can together pull this initiative. Market protection for locally grown and cultivated products is very essential. The price of the local products can remain competitive by using well water (to be decontaminated if necessary), which is much less costly and is easily accessible in many areas on this island.”
Another sector that can bring economic advantages is seafood farming for lobsters, fish, shrimps and conchs, thus creating additional opportunities for jobs. Livestock farming of chickens, ducks, and pigs for consumption and egg production can be sold locally as well as exported to neighbouring islands.
The US Party faction said it is actively working on the tolerance policy for decriminalisation of possession, use and cultivation of cannabis. The maximum allowed quantity of cannabis for personal and recreational use is yet to be determined. This will decrease the number of persons incarcerated for possession of a minimal quantity of cannabis.
In addition, youngsters found with a minimal amount of cannabis will not have a criminal record, thus allowing them to further their education or to seek employment.
The finalisation of the code of conduct and gift policy for parliamentarians is another aspect with which the US Party faction will be dealing, as this is imperative to prevent Members of Parliament (MPs) finding themselves in positions of possible conflict of interest and to prevent their compromising their functions/duties. It will also prevent MPs from using their office for personal gain and from having their integrity called into question.
The code of conduct will determine, among other things, the maximum monetary value of gifts a member of parliament may accept, what other employment or duties/work a member of parliament may perform outside of his/her duties as a parliamentarian, and what other functions the member may hold or carry out.
Installing a permanent Integrity Committee in parliament is also something US Party will be bringing to the floor of parliament.
On the subject of Environmental Protection and Preservation, US Party believes that the beach ownership legislation must be reviewed to ensure that all beaches and shorelines are owned by St. Maarten, including parking and accessibility.
The party will also be pushing for the long-awaited finalisation of the VROMI ordinance which entails the garbage collection ordinance, the sewage collection ordinance, the building ordinance and the completion of the zoning of the country to prevent the destruction of beaches, lagoons, ponds and the remaining greenery, amongst other things.
A needed law on breathalyser testing is presently being reviewed for the process to start the initiative law or an amendment to the present law. This law will allow law enforcement officers to perform a breathalyser test on individuals suspected of being intoxicated or under the influence of alcohol while driving a vehicle on the public road, or being a nuisance to society. Presently, there is no legal manner to determine the state of such persons by means of a test unless a blood sample is taken.
Also, the law on noise pollution is being reviewed for the initiative law process and will equip law enforcement officers with a device to measure and determine the level of noise being produced. Perpetrators will be warned or given a fine, should they exceed the to-be-determined allowed number of decibels. Presently, there is no legal manner to determine the level of decibels in the law.
The US Party MPs are dealing with the adaptation of the electoral laws on the following points: The remuneration to which politicians are entitled at the end of their terms or when their terms end prematurely (i.e. termination due to a vote of no-confidence or change of government, or due to early elections); the right and the process to call early elections prior to the formal end of the term; and the procedures to appoint and screen candidate ministers.
Revision of the draft penal code is another matter dear to the hearts of the US Party MPs. They have suggested amendments to various articles to ensure that everyone is treated fairly by the law and that no one party, in particular the Prosecutor’s Office, is given a preferential position to carry out their job.
The law is not about what quota can be filled or how many people can be arrested, but about ensuring that the country is safe for all citizens, the party said in the release. “Everyone must be treated equally and the personal privacy must be safeguarded by the laws (as it is in the Netherlands), which is presently not the case.”
The Daily Herald

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