By Nelson A. King
NEW YORK (CMC) — An opposition Member of Parliament in St. Vincent and the Grenadines says farmers in the Caribbean nation will not benefit significantly from the legalisation of marijuana for medical purposes.
“My fear is that poor people will not be involved,” Roland “Patel” Matthews, the shadow minister of agriculture, land and fisheries for the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), told a town hall meeting here on Saturday night.
“Today, St. Vincent and the Grenadines is to benefit, but the poor people will be the loser,” said Matthews, whose constituency, the North Leeward is considered to have the highest concentration of marijuana farmers in the country.
Matthews said that while the NDP supported the medical marijuana bills in Parliament, it has serious misgivings about sections of the pieces of legislation.
“The bills do very little to change the status of marijuana growers. Most marijuana farmers are landless, since they squatted on crown lands.
“The empowerment of traditional and local farmers is not promoted in the bills. The Cannabis Cultivation Amnesty Bill is flawed and exposes traditional farmers to financial loss,” said Mathews, a former schoolteacher.
In addition, Matthews said no financial support is provided for traditional farmers “who struggled to create the industry,” and urged that a marijuana farmers association must be promoted.
He said the NDP, if elected to office in the next general elections, would overhaul the Prevention of the Misuse Drugs Act and issue guidelines on sentencing “that will reflect and recognize the changes that marijuana now has on the world view.
“We will focus primarily on traditional farmers and locals who must benefit from the industry. Appropriate land tenure and licensing strategies must be developed to assist small, landless traditional farmers who currently squat.”
For the first three years of the regulated industry, Matthews said the NDP would give licenses to plots of one acre or less.
The NDP government would also permit possession of two ounces or less of marijuana for personal use, “with appropriate restrictions for use in public places and for use by minors,” Matthews said.
He further said an NDP administration would legalise possession of up to two ounces of marijuana, “completely expunge all records of convictions for persons convicted of possession of up to two ounces of marijuana, including persons currently serving prison sentences”.
He said consideration would also be given to “making reparations for persons who paid fines for possession of up to two ounces of marijuana”.
In addition, the opposition legislator said an NDP government would “permit use of the herb for religious purposes without state harassment or discrimination; permit an individual household to grow up to five marijuana trees; encourage meaningful partnerships between traditional farmers and local and foreign investors; encourage marijuana related industries in a regulated environment; (and) work towards legalisation of marijuana eventually.”
“St. Vincent and the Grenadines is second to Jamaica in marijuana (production in the Caribbean),” Matthews said.
“I represent a constituency that marijuana has a big role. People are using money from marijuana to uplift themselves. Our party will change the bill. The people involved in marijuana are poorer people. In my opinion it (Medical Marijuana Bill) was hurried.
“We have to get with the times. We have to tweak the legislation and make it more sensitive to the times in which we live,” he told the audience.
Last December, SVG became the first Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) member to pass legislation allowing for the decriminalisation of marijuana for medicinal and scientific purposes.
Parliament approved two pieces of legislation that also allows for the production of the crop under a tightly controlled framework.
Agriculture Minister Saboto Caesar, who piloted the measure, said that it would end many of the sufferings people had endured in the illegal marijuana trade.