A Crown Counsel in the Office of the Director of Public has added his voice to the chorus of concerns in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) that the marijuana laws Parliament is expected to pass on Thursday will not benefit traditional growers of the plant.
“The bill is far from the ordinary man. The requirements are designed to be satisfied by a handful of greedy people. Those who have been spewing evil about cannabis over the years are the ones now poised to benefit from this new initiative,” Carl Williams said on Saturday.
Williams delivered a speech entitled “The Future of Marijuana In SVG: An Analysis of The Cannabis Bill” at an event organised by opposition lawmaker, Sen. Kay Bacchus-Baptiste.
Bacchus-Baptiste, a lawyer, has been identified as the main opposition New Democratic Party’s (NDP) candidate for West St. George in the next general elections.
She has been a member of the committee selected by parliament to review the three marijuana bills since Minister of Agriculture Saboto Caesar tabled them in September and has expressed that the proposed laws do not redound to the benefit of traditional growers of marijuana.
Williams was one of the persons who, as far back as 2012, went on the record calling for changes to SVG’s marijuana laws.
He told The Vincentian newspaper in December 2012 that when the United States is way ahead in the marijuana industry, SVG would be playing catch-up.
“I made that statement and I was chastised by some of the very individuals who are now championing the new marijuana laws,” he told Saturday’s event.
“At that time I was advocating the decriminalisation of cannabis with a view to legalising it. Perhaps it sounded quite outrageous for a Crown Counsel to be urging the Parliament of this country to do so. Who would have thought in 2012 that we would be at this stage not only here in St Vincent and the Grenadines but also globally?” he said at the event.
Parliament is expected to debate The Medicinal Cannabis Industry Bill, The Cannabis Cultivation (Amnesty) Bill, and The Permitted Use of Cannabis for Religious Purpose Bill on Thursday, and the government is expected to use its majority to ensure the passage of the laws.
The Medicinal Cannabis Industry Bill will regulate the supply and use of cannabis for medicinal purposes and The Cannabis Cultivation (Amnesty) Bill will grant amnesty for the period commencing Aug. 1, 2018 and ending July 31, 2019 or such further period as the House of Assembly may determine.
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, the minister explained.
Williams outlined the stringent requirement that an applicant must meet when seeking a licence to engage in any of the various activities recognised within the medical marijuana industry.
To obtain a Traditional Cultivator’s License, for instance, the regulations require the applicant to show, in respect of land, that all applicable taxes have been paid and produce a survey plan of the land comprising the premises or on which the premises are situated.
The law further asks for evidence of ownership of land either by a deed of conveyance, a certificate of the order containing the declaration of possession of title in relation to the premises, issued by the registrar of the High Court pursuant to the Possessory Titles act, a will devising the premises or other documentary evidence such as a contract of sale, deed of gift or a lease agreement in relation to such premises.
Where an applicant does not have evidence of ownership, he has to rely on the consent of owner form.
Access to land ‘a serious issue’
Last week, Junior “Spirit” Cottle, a longstanding advocate for marijuana reform, told iWitness News that land is “a serious issue” as SVG reforms its marijuana laws
“Land is a serious issue because traditional growers all the years have been going on Crown lands and growing cannabis,” said Cottle, who represents the Cannabis Revival Committee on the select committee of Parliament.
“Unless they are given lands, I don’t think the whole industry will be very successful,” Cottle said, referring to traditional growers who have cultivated marijuana on state-owned lands.
Cottle said his group is negotiating so that land will be made available to traditional growers “so that they can produce cannabis, within a legal framework and make some monies to take care of their families.”
“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, the growers, they don’t have lands. 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. 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,” he told iWitness News.
‘all about taxes and more taxes’
Regarding The Cannabis Cultivation (Amnesty) Bill, Williams said Parliament is putting the traditional cultivators at the mercy of a Medicinal Cannabis Authority — which the laws will establish.
“The people, who have made the sacrifice, for which the Minister of Agriculture now takes the glory,” Williams said.
He was referring to the press release issued by the Ministry of Agriculture earlier this month celebrating the nation’s 50 years of experience cultivating marijuana — albeit illegally — as number two of 30 reasons why people should invest in SVG.
The minister has done so “while seeking to bring legislation to Parliament to put at the mercy of a Medical Marijuana Authority, the people, the traditional farmers who have sacrificed their lives for those 50 years,” Williams said.
“The discussion about reparatory justice appears to be of no significance in this regard, it is all about taxes and more taxes. There is much discussion going on around the country as to whether upon surrendering their weed, the farmers will be paid. Let us wait and see if the Medicinal Cannabis Authority will allow them to benefit from their own wrong,” Williams said, pointed out that there is a legal principle that an offender should not benefit from his wrongdoing.
The Christian Council has also expressed concerns that foreign interests are more likely to benefit from the laws, as currently proposed.