St. Vincent to establish medical marijuana industry
The St Vincent and the Grenadines Parliament was expected to approve on Thursday laws establishing a medical marijuana industry in the country.
The bills are expected to become law amid concerns among three groups involved in the review of the draft legislation - growers, the Christian Council, and the parliamentary opposition - that foreign interest could benefit the most from a medicinal marijuana industry there.
"As we, as growers, get into this part of the industry, I must tell you that the playing field is not a level one because foreigners, the investors, have the money (and) the growers, they don't have lands," said Junior 'Spirit' Cottle, a long-standing advocate of reform of the island's marijuana laws.
"I am very concerned about that aspect of the development. We have called upon government and we are negotiating with them to make lands available," said Cottle, the head of the Cannabis Revival Committee (CRC).
"We are a bit optimistic. If it is not made available, the whole issue of medical cannabis industry is gonna fail. Monies might be made, but not from the perspective of growers' involvement, and we oppose that. The CRC oppose that," said Cottle, who represented his organisation on the committee reviewing the legislation.
The drafts laws - the Medicinal Cannabis Industry Bill, the Cannabis Cultivation (Amnesty) Bill, and the Permitted Use of Cannabis for Religious Purpose Bill - were sent to a parliamentary select committee for review after Minister of Agriculture Saboto Caesar presented them to lawmakers on September 7.
Caesar said the Medicinal Cannabis Industry Bill proposes to regulate the supply and use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.
"That is, for the treatment of persons with qualifying medical conditions," he told lawmakers.
The Cannabis Cultivation (Amnesty) Bill will grant amnesty for the period commencing August 1, 2018 and ending July 31, 2019, or such further period as the House of Assembly may determine.
On the other hand, the amnesty law is designed to grant a reprieve to people who have illegally cultivated cannabis on or before the amnesty period, by providing such persons with an opportunity to surrender their crop or harvest upon the issuance of a traditional cultivation licence, Caesar explained.
But the St Vincent and the Grenadines Christian Council has voiced concerns about the move towards decriminalising marijuana here.
"Have we considered the imperialistic and neo-colonial undertones to this new 'cash cow'? To what extent, in our quest to have a windfall, are we pandering to, and perpetuating an ideological and existential phenomenon built on principles of exploitation and manipu-lation using money and monetisation as the primary medium?" the religious group asked.