Minister of Agriculture, Saboto Caesar, says that the three marijuana bills he will ask Parliament to pass into law in December consider traditional growers of the illegal plant.
Caesar, in a Facebook Live broadcast last week, says that this consideration is shown from the inclusion of these growers in the select committee reviewing the law.
He was responding to a question regarding what is being done to protect small farmers so that the proposed medical marijuana industry does not fall solely into the hands of large corporation.
In September, Caesar presented to Parliament The Medicinal Cannabis Industry Bill, The Cannabis Cultivation (Amnesty) Bill and The Permitted Use of Cannabis for Religious Purpose Bill, and asked that they be sent to a select committee for review.
The bills were expected to be passed into law last week, but the debate has been postponed to Dec. 10.
In his Facebook appearance last week, Caesar said that at the level of the select committee, traditional growers of marijuana are working to put the legal framework together.
“I want people to appreciate this because sometimes we speak of the traditional farmers as if they are not businessmen or as if they are left out of the process.”
He said that at the select committee, policymakers had “certain plans and programmes to assist traditional cultivators”.
There has been, however, “a broadening of these plans and programmes because the traditional cultivators, they are constantly making a case for the integration into the value chain, which would mean different levels of assistance.”
The minister said that the traditional cultivators with whom he has interacted over the past 11 months “have a vision, they have a foresight and most of these persons are already organised.
“In fact, persons would tell you that to be a traditional farmer you had to be a part of a network.”
He also used the opportunity of the broadcast to respond to persons who have argued that the proposed laws sideline traditional growers of marijuana.
“Importantly, I am not getting from the traditional cultivators that what they wish to have is a system of dependency,” Caesar said.
“When I interact at consultations with traditional cultivators, they are saying we are organised, we know exactly what we want from this industry and we want to tell the government that we have started discussions with several stakeholders.”
He said locally, regionally and internationally-based investors have made certain commitments.
“I will even go to the extent to note that I have already seen up to few weeks ago a memorandum of understanding drafted between a group of traditional cultivators and a potential investor.”
The minister, however, said he was aware that not everyone would want to be in a joint venture with a local, regional, or international stakeholder.
He said one of the disadvantages of such an approach is that it is not cheap to meet the international standards associated with the medical marijuana industry.
“And different strains which will have to be cultivated, which have been studied in the depth and detail over the years, to access these, it will cost some capital injection.”
Caesar said that the bill is basically saying that “from the standpoint of capital injection, there is the opportunity for assistance.
“The policymakers have clearly noted that from the issue of land as a factor of production, we are going to assess and analyse the potential establishment of a framework where lands, once lands are available, to make lands available to traditional cultivators, and the last one, which is labour, many of the traditional cultivators are already operating within a particular framework will definitely be the persons who intend to work at different stages of the value chain, and definitely, their families.”
The minister said that he foresees evolving over the next six or so months “a very important period of a transfer of technology…
“We have to create that framework and that environment for a level playing field to be created. And traditional cultivators definitely will be part of it..”
He said that two of these benefits would be that a traditional cultivator would not have to pay an initial licence fee nor an application fee to become a legal grower of marijuana.
Caesar said that anyone who comes to SVG to invest in the medical marijuana industry must purchase from the traditional cultivator 10 per cent of the raw material they intend to process.
“So this, in and of itself, is guaranteeing a market. So once you have the land, you have the labour, you have the capital, you have the transfer of the technology, you have the support that is outlined in the bill for the training, and you have a market, then we start to see the shaping of all the limbs of a potential industry in which the traditional farmers will pay an important role,” he said.