Opposition Senator Kay Bacchus-Baptiste says she “read with astonishment” the press release from the Ministry of Agriculture that listed as number 2 among 33 reasons to invest in SVG, the nation’s more than 50 years of experience growing marijuana.
She further noted that the Nov. 5 press release issued to the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States says St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) is “on the brink of becoming a globally leading producer of organically certified medicinal cannabis, rivalling any other producer in the entire Western Hemisphere”.
The release also hails the Unity Labour Party administration’s significant investment in education, saying this has created a working age population that is “ready to embrace and support development of this type”.
It, however, said SVG has more than 2,000 traditional cannabis farmers, Bacchus-Baptiste further noted on Friday on New Times, the New Democratic Party’s radio programme.
Bacchus-Baptiste, an NDP senator, said
“My point is this: you are using our Rastafarians and marijuana farmers to say that you have over 2,000 of them so we are highly qualified to produce the weed and over 50 years experience and half of these people in jail rotting or have a record. They must bring in their marijuana and they are not guaranteed amnesty,” said Bacchus-Baptiste, a lawyer.
“… You are using their expertise to advertise and you do not think you should compensate them for the marijuana they’re bringing in then?” she said.
She was referring to concerns she had earlier raised about whether farmers would be compensated for marijuana they surrender to the state under the proposed marijuana amnesty law.
That act is one of three pieces of marijuana-related legislation expected to be passed in Parliament on Nov. 20.
“What happens to the marijuana they bring in? When they have laboured, how are they going to be paid?” she said.
“To me, it is a moral and social issue as regards bringing in your marijuana and giving it up. I am saying that I can understand the thinking behind the bill but more thought needs to go into it.
“Because you cannot be bragging as minister of Agriculture that we have 50 years experience. How can you use a negative experience — would you have bragged that before you have a bill that you have 50 years in growing marijuana? I find that appalling. So I am saying we have a double standard.”
Bacchus-Baptiste, a senator for the main opposition New Democratic Party, said that the bills are creating “an unequal society”.
“You have the investor who would be given a licence, who would have a right to plant. And then you have the ones who have built the industry over 50 years, who may not and will not get a licence but who will still be penalised and who would still get a criminal record.
“That, I find — there is something wrong with that. There needs to be a cleansing, there needs to be, as the Antiguan Prime Minister did, he apologised, he said we were wrong. We have to talk about some sort of reparation for the farmers.”
She was referring to the public apology that Gaston Browne made on behalf of his government to persons who had been hounded because of possession of marijuana.
St. John’s has decriminalised the possession of small quantities of marijuana for recreational use, a move that the Ralph Gonsalves government in Kingstown says it is not prepared to make at this time.
“Instead, you are still saying that they will be convicted, they stand to get a record because they cannot hold a few ounces because you are not going to legalise recreational marijuana.”
She said that with the medical marijuana bill, the government is seeking to say which illnesses will qualify to be treated with marijuana.
“When we know that a lot of our Rastafarian brothers have been using it for all sorts of illnesses. So we need better research and we cannot go only with what the world that has a different interest is telling us,” Bacchus-Baptiste said.