Dr. John J. Swift is an educator extremely interested in the development of learners and the power of coaching as another tool to develop people building on his knowledge and skills in this area. With wide experience in devising, planning and evaluating learning and development activities, he has lectured for 19 years. He worked for various international organizations like UNFPA, CICAD/OAS, and OECS. As the Manager of the ONDCP's Anti-Drug Strategy Unit, his duties include the coordination of the activities necessary to ensure Antigua and Barbuda's counter-drug policies and practices are consistent with regional and international standards; the development and management of the Unit's plans, programmes and budgets and assesses its impact on supporting agencies and projects, among others. He also compiles, collates, analyses, evaluates and interprets data and presents findings for use in the national anti-drug strategy; prepares comprehensive analytical and evaluative reports, develops and maintains matrices of the National Anti-Drug Strategies, the Multi-lateral Evaluation Mechanism and other initiatives and organizes and executes programmes of research for use as inputs into briefs for the Director - ONDCP Permanent Secretary, Minister.
What are the main priorities of the ONDCP and the Government of Antigua & Barbuda regarding drugs policy?
The main priorities of the ONDCP and the Government of Antigua & Barbuda regarding drugs policy include:
- Legislative reform in respect to precursor drugs with a complementary administrative process in regulating and keeping track of what precursors (pre and post inclusive) enter or transit our borders.
- We are also looking at having the National Drug Council established in law and improving its functionality. The amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act 2019, which paves the way for establishing the legal framework of the National Drug Council, was passed in the Lower House on the 23rd February 2019. It is expected that it will go through the Upper house shortly.
- Technical assistance with a view to improving both drug demand and supply control mechanisms.
- Aiding the preparation and implementation of the National Anti-Drug Strategy Plan by reducing the availability of, and the demand for drugs especially among the youth, strengthening corporation between key stakeholders, improving data collection and availability, delaying the onset of substance use/abuse and improving implementation ability of the National Drug Council.
- The establishment of a Drug Treatment Court and a National Treatment Centre in an effort to strengthen the demand reduction capacity through a health base provision.
To review the current legislation with a view of ensuring that it is in line with international best practices. Seeing what gaps exist and bringing the schedules in line with the updated INCB red list. We would also welcome any capacity building to include the training of the Registrar, drug analysts and inspectors, along with database technology to monitor and keep track of precursors.
On February 2019, PM Gaston Browne became the world’s first leader to apologise for cannabis prohibition and calls for reparations. Could you explain the process followed in Antigua and Barbuda towards legalizing the regulated production and supply of marijuana for medical and religious purposes?
A select committee headed by the Attorney General was formed to look into the decriminalisation and several public consultations were held in 2017 to discuss the decriminalisation before the act was passed in March 2018.
While the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Act 2018 has been amended to decriminalise small quantities of cannabis by allowing the possession of up to 15 grams of the controlled substance, certain restrictions remain in place on its possession. For example, the law prohibits persons from smoking cannabis in public and allows for persons who contravene the provision to be given a warning on the first occasion of the contravention and on the second contravention a “violation ticket” of $500.00 be given” and on third or subsequent occasion be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding $1,500.00. The law also provides for any person under the age of 18 years of age who is found with cannabis to be required to participate in a drug counselling programme.
In respect to cultivation, the legislation permits the head of the household, owner, lessee, tenant or other person having actual control of the property to cultivate not more than four plants of cannabis on his property for personal use.
Another piece of legislation, The Cannabis Bill 2018 is currently before parliament. This piece of legislation provides for the regulation and control of cannabis for religious use, by documented members of registered religious organisations, to uphold the constitutional rights afforded to each citizen of Antigua and Barbuda. It also provides for the regulation and control of cannabis for medicinal and scientific use within Antigua and Barbuda. It establishes the Antigua & Barbuda Medical Cannabis Authority whose function will be to authorise medicinal and alternative health practitioners to recommend medicinal cannabis, to establish scientific research protocol for medicinal cannabis and to establish a licencing structure and complete seed to sale Radio-frequency Identification (RFID) tracking system that will be used to conform to international regulations and to prevent diversion.
The Antigua & Barbuda Bureau of Standards has already set up a committee to look at establishing standards to regulate the testing, labelling and other related issues regarding medical cannabis.
According to your active participation at COPOLAD meetings and Working Groups in the field of Drug Observatories, what do you identify as the main challenges for your country to establish a NDO and a national Early Warning System (EWS)?
Antigua and Barbuda already has a National Drug Observatory. The Early Warning System (EWS) is in the preliminary stage of being established. The relevant stakeholders have been identified early in the New Year the stakeholders will gather to discuss the next steps. The main challenge at present is being able to get all the stakeholders together.
Which are the main supply control strategies to face illegal drug-related activities in your country, and how useful are the opportunities to cooperate with other CELAC countries facilitated in this field by COPOLAD on?
The main supply control strategies utilised by Antigua and Barbuda include:
- Improving screening procedures at ports of entry.
- Strengthening the capability of law enforcement agencies to control drug trafficking.
- Extending and strengthening both regional and international cooperation in anti-drug efforts.
- Working towards the introduction of legislation to control chemical precursors and pharmaceutical products used in the manufacturing of illegal drugs.
- Strengthening technical and human resource capacities of stakeholders to deliver on their mandates.
- Promoting an evidence-based approach towards the development of policy and programme formulation within national agencies.
Since 2016, Antigua & Barbuda, has been participating in most COPOLAD II activities. What is your assessment about the exchange of experiences between the CELAC and the EU countries facilitated by COPOLAD?
Antigua & Barbuda has benefited significantly from its participation in the COPOLAD II activities. The activities have provided opportunities to cooperate and coordinate with countries that face similar challenges as we share close borders. The opportunity has also been provided for us to learn from each other’s experiences and challenges, thus allowing us to model our plans and strategies with others who have already gone through similar experiences.
Putting measures in place for problems which we might not yet be facing but could surface if not addressed now.
The activities also provide that space for us as professionals to network thus providing a capacity-building portal for those working in the various fields of the drug situation.
The European Commission is preparing a third phase of this programme, therefore COPOLAD will be back at the beginning of 2021.