The meeting of Parliament on Thursday will hear the first reading of three marijuana-related bills as the government pushes ahead with the establishment of a medical marijuana industry in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Saboto Caesar, will table the three bills, namely, The Medicinal Cannabis Industry Bill, The Cannabis Cultivation (Amnesty) Bill, and The Permitted Use of Cannabis for Religious Purpose Bill.
The bills are coming to Parliament almost six months later than expected. The Ralph Gonsalves administration had indicated its desire to have the relevant laws passed by March.
The main opposition New Democratic Party has suggested the position it would take on the bill.
Opposition Leader Godwin Friday said in January that the government must ensure that any medical marijuana industry established in SVG benefits citizens.
“Whatever happens with the developments with respect to medical marijuana … or those persons here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines who are engaged in providing products to the people who may make medicine and so on, whatever we do has to benefit our people,” Friday said.
“It can’t be a situation where you’re simply inviting multinational pharmaceutical corporations to essentially come and dominate an industry that our local people here can benefit from,” the opposition leader further stated.
His comments come within the context of the Canadian investors who are building a resort at Mt Wynne having said that they want to offer medical marijuana treatment when the facility begins operating.
In February, opposition spokesperson on agriculture, Member of Parliament for North Leeward, Roland “Patel” Matthews, accused the Gonsalves government of embracing marijuana out of convenience.
He noted that in 2010, when he defeated physician Jerrol Thompson of the Unity Labour Party, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, who once called Matthews a “yam digger”, said that it was marijuana that caused Matthews to win.
Matthew has called on the government to legalise possession of small quantities of marijuana for recreational use, a step the government says it is not prepared to take at this time.
Minister of Finance Camillo Gonsalves outlined his government’s position on the issue in his Budget Address in February.
“Unregulated consumption of recreational marijuana poses a number of risks and challenges that we do not currently have the data on which to make informed decisions, or the capacity to manage effectively,” the minister said.
Prime Minister Gonsalves reiterated that position in July, telling iWitness News that recreational users of the plant will have to depend on “police tolerance”, if they are caught with smaller quantities.
And, in August, the prime minister criticized the opposition’s approach to reforming of the nation’s marijuana laws.
He asked whether “legalise it” — as Matthews, and Israel Bruce, who the NDP has identified as its candidate for South Central Windward have called for — is a policy.
Gonsalves, speaking at a press conference in Kingstown, said he does not subscribe to the view that marijuana is the best thing that happened to this universe and all one has to do is smoke it and become wise.
“I am in the school which says that it has medicinal properties and we can make an industry out of that. I am also in the school that says there is a sacramental issue which we have to address with freedom of religion.”
He said he recognised that nearly 40 per cent of the population support decriminalisation for recreational purposes.
“Because I say what the poll says, I am a scientific person, I am told that I don’t have any soul,” he said, but offered no further information about the poll.
“So, what I must do is that I must ignore the reality, these findings and we know that the public is divided on it and, therefore, I have a responsibility to address the issue of the misuse and abuse.
“Those who want to play to the gallery as two NDP candidates did and said on a platform, and Friday, everybody was sitting down there, and Eustace, nobody got up and said anything, they said what we say on this thing is like Bunny Wailer. We say legalise it. Is that a policy? Is that how you make public policy on a serious thing? Eh? That is a strategy?” Gonsalves said.