No date has been set for the beginning of the amnesty under which persons that have grown marijuana illegally but can find market the medical marijuana industry can sell their produce while avoiding prosecution.
Minister of agriculture Saboto Caesar further told Parliament on Tuesday that the government has also not set the time period for the duration of the amnesty.
He was responding to questions by Member of Parliament for North Leeward Roland “Patel” Matthews.
Matthews, an opposition lawmaker, had noted that since December 2018, legislation to declare a period of amnesty for marijuana cultivation and possession was passed in the House of Assembly.
To date, the amnesty period has not yet been declared, Matthews further observed and asked the minister to say when the amnesty will be declared and how long it will take.
Matthews also asked Caesar to say if everything was in place, as outlined in the amnesty legislation, to accommodate the amnesty and, what advice has been given to those farmers who are presently cultivating marijuana and those who have stored marijuana and are waiting on the amnesty and its possible benefits.
Caesar said that some stakeholders have asked that the amnesty last six months, while other have lobbied for one year.
‘Those matters have to be looked at again. The regulations are completed. However, the licence holders who will be doing extraction are still in the process of building out the infrastructure,” he told parliament.
The agriculture minister said the buildings must meet good manufacturing standards, the equipment has to be brought in and the technicians on standby.
“Equipment for one company is already in the country because they obtained the concession so to do,” he said.
He said that his ministry is operating under the simple principle that it does not advocate for any diversions into the illicit market “– the principle of non-diversion”.
“Licence holders have expressed an intention to extract certain chemical and phytochemicals from amnesty products. There are two companies in St. Vincent and the Grenadines currently that have concluded their testing of product in country and this was done pursuant to a scientific research permit,” Caesar said.
He said he wants persons to note that it is clearly within international law that cannabis be used for medicinal purposes and for research.
“However, the product produced under an illicit regime is not yet demanded by the licence holders because they are putting in place, in terms of the infrastructure and the set up for the technology and the final work. Persons who are traditional cultivators, I am advising that you apply for the traditional cultivators’ licence and that you attend the meeting and be kept informed.”
Meanwhile, in another question on the order paper, Matthews also said licenses have been issued to several groups, individuals and companies to commence medical cannabis cultivation.
He asked Caesar to say when license holders will commence the cultivation of medical cannabis, how many individuals, groups and companies have begun cultivation of medical cannabis, how many acres of land are currently under cultivation of medical marijuana, and when will the first harvesting of medical marijuana commence and what is the expected sales target in Eastern Caribbean dollars.
Caesar said the establishment of a modern medical cannabis industry has seven distinct phases.
The first four, he said, was a clear statement of the political will to establish the industry; a period of public consultation, drafting of the legislative framework and the enactment of the law, and establishment of the regulatory framework.
The minister said that 10 groups comprising traditional cultivators have licences; 29 traditional cultivators in their own names, eight nationals who don’t have a history of producing cannabis, five local companies, and 14 non-national companies
He said an inspectorate has been set up and a licencing department.
The government has entered phase 5, Caesar said, adding that Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves noted in the debate last year that there is no pot of gold at the end of the medical cannabis rainbow
Some persons were of the view that they were going to see all the hillsides of SVG planted in weed and five or 10,000 acres, Caesar said.
“Well, there are phases in the development of any industry and I will just outline phases one, two, three, four and currently we are in phase 5.”
From the standpoint of the Medicinal Cannabis Authority, a lab has to be constructed, the minister said.
“And I am advised by the Medical Cannabis Authority that the lab will be costing something on or about EC$700,000 to construct the lab.”
The minister said that persons who obtain licenses have to purchase equipment, are applying for concessions, and are constructing or renting buildings.
“These buildings and what will be taking place inside of these buildings must meet the requisite international standards so that they can report. They have to import strains, they have to crossbreed with local strains, hence we have on the order paper the Plant Breeders Protection Bill 2019, which will touch and concern other parts of agriculture.”
He said that if the cannabis cultivators are involved in tissue culture, the government has just completed the assessment as to what it will cost and then the government will go into phase six, which will be the production phase.
“And I want to advise that some companies are in stage six but they are at the trial plot stage of the production. They have not started cultivation or processing.”
Caesar said the final phase will be patient access/export.
“So, from observation, cultivation should commence by the second half of 2020, the latest, barring any unforeseen activities…
“Regarding starting cultivation, companies and groups are still starting trials and they are testing different strains, cross-breeding strains and this can go on for up to six months and beyond. And access in terms of acres of land under cultivation, with actual production to date in the aggregate of the trial plots, we have less than one acre and I want to note that this, like any other commodity, will be a demand driven one and it is too uncertain to predict at this point in time where the figures are going to be in terms of the anticipated returns,” Caesar said.
He said he has liaison personnel in the MCA who are approaching traditional cultivators with the information.