A law to allow for the setting up of a medicinal marijuana industry in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) could be presented to Parliament for approval by March 2018.
However, Vincentians would have to wait longer to see if their government will decriminalise possession of small portions of the drug for recreational use, such as the youth smoking a marijuana cigarette on street corners.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves told a press conference last week that he met on Old Year’s Day with Minister of Agriculture, Saboto Caesar and Pet Sealey, a Vincentian legal draftsperson, working out of Jamaica to do consultations and the draft law and regulations.
He said that Caesar is chairing a Cabinet committee on the issue of medical marijuana.
“And I am hopeful that by the end of the first quarter that we should have, in the Parliament, a bill addressing the question of medical marijuana — medical marijuana industry,” the prime minister said.
“Notice I am not talking yet about decriminalisation of small quantities for recreational, religious use. That’s a longer debate and discussion. I want to see us have a business in medical marijuana,” Gonsalves told the Jan. 2 press conference.
“I watch the Jamaican experience. Jamaica set up for the medical marijuana and at the same time, they decriminalise in respect of two ounces for personal use.
“The emphasis seems to have been on the decriminalisation for personal use. I want us to put this matter of medical marijuana as an industry centre and upfront. And I want to see foreign investment in it and I want to see domestic investment in it. Because they have to have the marketplace with the entities responding to the market, the Canadian market, British market, the European market generally, for medicinal marijuana.”
Gonsalves reminded listeners that marijuana, as a plant, has beneficial uses.
“Notice what I said, beneficial uses. But it is a plant, because it has narcotic properties, can be misused and abused. That is why the law in the past has been addressing the misuse of marijuana. I want to address the use, the beneficial use of it; not the misuse and abuse.
“And, clearly, a regime will have to be put in place for growing it under secure conditions, a particular strain of marijuana for medicinal purposes, you would have to have the laboratory facilities to extract the oil from it and to export those and we are even talking about locally, if any of the investors are so inclined. And we are having discussions, there are three of them, to have, in addition to extracting the oils, to see if it is possible to do some pharmaceutical production here itself,” Gonsalves said.
The prime minister said his government is serious about it because he thinks there is unanimity in SVG that marijuana has medicinal uses and that it must be done in a proper and scientific way.
“And there are reputable entities which have been talking to us. But I don’t want local business people to be saying, ‘Well, we didn’t know.’
“We have been talking about it, and, interestingly, while we talk about it, people from overseas have been contacting us but not local business people. And the government clearly has a role to play in facilitating local entities that want to be involved in such an industry.
“I don’t want to talk about prospective details now, but only to make [clear] at this beginning of the New Year that this is an important area.”
Gonsalves responded to persons who might be critical of the move.
“What we have to do is to sit back, analyse, reflect and take decisions within our own interest.”
He said he is “hopeful that we can have serious and abbreviated discussion on this matter – further discussion”.
He said that conversation is going on, noting that he had urged CARICOM to set up the CARICOM Marijuana Commission.
“The work is stalled a little, they have done some work, they had consultations here. I just can’t wait indefinitely. And that one, I want to see if I can get it done with a bill to Parliament before the end of the first quarter of the year. Very ambitious, I may not meet that deadline but I’m trying to aim for that deadline.”
He said that the other discussion about decriminalising for personal use is “a longer discussion, a more involved discussion, a more contentious issue”.
The prime minister pre-empted accusations that he is afraid to decriminalise small portions of marijuana for recreational use.
“But, as a policymaker, on a matter like that, you have to make sure that you have full involvement, full discussion and you have the broad body of public opinion with you on it. But, on medical marijuana, I don’t see any controversy there. There may be the odd person here and there. So I think it is a question of lining up the industry in a manner which benefits us,” Gonsalves said.