The government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines is prepared to provide “practical assistance” to traditional growers of marijuana after the law is reformed.
However, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said on WE FM Tuesday morning that this assistance will not include on-lending money to farmers.
Member of Parliament for North Leeward, Roland “Patel” Matthews, speaking on NICE Radio Tuesday night, asked why can’t the government borrow EC$10 million and lend to farmers to form themselves into a cooperative.
He noted that the Gonsalves government has borrowed US$50 million (about EC$135 million) to build a hotel in Mt Wynne-Peters Hope, and will give it to an international hotel chain to manage.
“No, the business people seem not to have the acumen to manage a $10 million but you will borrow EC$130-odd million and put it in the hands of some management group, somebody from outside to manage,” said Matthews, who is the opposition’s lead spokesperson on agriculture.
He said that the government has “a golden opportunity” to use some money “to even set up a cooperative”.
The lawmaker said that under the draft law that will be debated in Parliament next week, “there is no way the local farmers are going to benefit.
“Yes, by themselves, they believe they would benefit if they come together. But that shouldn’t be something they should be worried about. That should have been set up with the help of the government’s Cooperative Division to advise local ganja farmers … show them the advantages of them coming together as cooperative and be a producer of the raw supply to make the medicine.
“But nothing of that sort. The local man, the one man or the two men, who as usual going for years and planting their stuff would have to be fadging (scrounging) around, ‘How am I going to do this, how am I to start, who am I going to go to? How am I going to get a licence? All of these things.”
Matthews noted that the government is advertising SVG as having more than 50 years of experience growing marijuana and over 2,000 farmers.
“You are going to pass legislation and using the illegal activity as a backdrop to encourage people to get involved in the industry. But while you are doing that, the persons who made your history possible, the persons who gave you the motivation of 50 years or 2,000 people planting, they are at the bottom, they are not getting anything,” Matthew said.
Matthew said each community in SVG where people have been involved in the illegal marijuana trade has a sad story about somebody having lost their life as a result.
“Something should come back so that these people. Say, ‘Yes, we have kept this going and now we are benefitting from it.’ Not somebody from overseas come in here and because you have a million dollars to buy a licence, you could buy a licence and you could have these people working along with you.
“We deserve better and I am saying that the position of the New Democratic Party and that of Patel Matthews is one that’s going to show that while we are, in principle, supporting the industry, we are doing so with the mindset that the ordinary ganja farmers should reap the benefits.”
‘Practical assistance’ through Ministry of Agriculture
But Gonsalves said there’s “practical assistance given through the Ministry of Agriculture; the practical assistance will be given through advisory groups in the ministry”
He further said the Cannabis Authority, which will grant licences for and collect fees from medical marijuana cultivation, will have personnel and resources to provide further advice.
“But what we have to be mindful about, what we have to be careful about is this, and this is why I say at the end of the medicinal cannabis rainbow there is not a metaphorical pot of gold, that you have to work hard and smart in this competitive business. In this unique way, we are seeking to build this industry.
“You can’t ask for the state to subsidise either the production end or the marketing end of ganja, or medical cannabis.”
Gonsalves said that since conquest and settlement, SVG has had four agricultural industries: sugar, cotton, arrowroot and bananas.
“And they were all subsidised at the production level and or at the marketing level,” he said.