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Minister Usher Says the Churches were Consulted

Tonight, the churches are inching closer to their goal of 19,000 signatures, in the hope of triggering a referendum on GOB’s Marijuana Legislation. But as Minister of Home Affairs Kareem Musa stated on Tuesday, the decision to hold the exercise will ultimately be decided by the Cabinet. The churches’ position is that the government has failed to properly consult. But, Minister of Religious Affairs Henry Charles-Usher told Love News that despite the churches’ claim of being not consulted, his ministry has held numerous talks with religious leaders.

Henry Chales-Usher, Minister of Public Service: “There will never be enough consultation. That is almost impossible but what I can say is that the Minister of Home Affairs and New Growth Industry has met with the churches. He has met with the Council of Churches. He has met with other stakeholders including the Chamber of Commerce, the Medical & Dental Association, I believe, the Social Partner Senators including Senator Benguche in that meeting to discuss the bill. This bill has gone through enough changes. It’s probably one of the bills that has seen the most changes in terms of amendments, in terms of improvements and it will continue to see those improvements. I wish that this conversation had started earlier. Remember when the amendment was made for 10 grams or less, in 2017?  We should have started the discussion about a referendum from then. The churches couldn’t believe that that would have been where it ended because it created an absurd situation where you could have 10g or less of cannabis on your possession but you couldn’t buy it and you couldn’t grow it. So where would the marijuana come from? So you had to know that there would be further amendments, further changes to the legislation. If you remember, originally, it would have been an amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act. Know, the recommendation was that we created a stand alone regulation so the cannabis bill was presented in The House. I go back to the position that there will never be enough consultation but I do believe that there has been some consultation and we have to continue to have the dialogue open.”

Reporter: Minister in your opinion, I know you said that this should have happened a long time ago, do you think it’s too late and do you think that the churches calling for a referendum now is unfair on the Government? 

Henry Chales-Usher, Minister of Public Service: “It’s never too late to listen to the Church really. I think it’s always important to listen to their position but it has to be in a fair and respectful manner which I think it has been. The referendum will cost if it does go to that process. If they get the requisite signatures, which is a legal process. Every group can go ahead and try to trigger a referendum and the Referendum Act speaks to that. If that process is triggered, it’s a decision that Cabinet will have to make. I can’t speak on behalf of Cabinet but I can say that we have to listen to what is being said out there. We have to continue to have that communication channel.”

According to Minister Usher, the estimated cost that taxpayers will pay for a referendum on the marijuana legislation is around two million dollars.