Opposition lawmaker Roland “Patel” Matthews is asking questions about how much money the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) has actually earned from medical marijuana licences.
He told the New Democratic Party’s (NDP) virtual campaign rally on Thursday that three government officials –Head of the Medical Cannabis Authority, Jerrol Thompson, Minister of Finance Camillo Gonsalves, and Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves — have each quoted different figures.
“I recall the chairman, the CEO of the Medical Cannabis Authority, Jerrol Thompson on Boom radio told this nation that they earned $16 million from ganja licencing,” said Matthews, who is seeking a third consecutive term as Member of Parliament for North Leeward.
“When they had the Busy Signal Show in this country, Camillo Gonsalves, the minister of finance said they made $15 million,” the lawmaker further said.
He was referring to the rally that the ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP) had in Arnos Vale last November to mark its 25th anniversary.
Gonsalves told the rally that Minister of Agriculture Saboto Caesar had initially predicted EC$5 million in earnings in 2015.
“Already this year, five million, we gone past that; 10 million, we gone past that; 15 million dollars Saboto Caesar has earned already in licence fees from the medical cannabis industry, and we are just getting started,” he told the thousands of persons at the decommissioned ET Joshua Airport in Arnos Vale.
Matthews, speaking on Thursday, noted the EC$1 million difference in Thompson and Gonsalves’ figures.
“I want to know where that million went,” Matthews said.
“And to make matters worse, a few weeks after that, the prime minister of this country … called in on 97.1 … and told them that they only make over $6 million.
Speaking on Hot 97 FM on Dec. 24, the prime minister said that only about EC$6 million of the revenue generated had reached the government coffers.
“One of the problems is this. Some entities which have received licences, some overseas entities, and the value of the licences issued thus far is about 15-16 million [dollars] but we haven’t collected that. We have collected about 5-6 million. The reason being — you can’t pay the money in US dollars. No bank will touch it because of the federal government regulations and you don’t want Bank of America or Bank of New York not to give you corresponding banking relationship,” the prime minister said.
Matthews, on Thursday, said:
“My question is: if Jerrol is the head of the Cannabis Authority, I supposed to believe him; If Camillo is the Minister of Finance, I supposed to believe him; if Ralph, as prime minister, I supposed to believe him.
“But with three different figures, somebody lying, somebody lying to the ganja man; somebody taking ganja money. Who taking ganja man money? Tell the people who taking ganja man money,” Matthew said.
“I say ganja man money, you know why? When this government promoted the idea of a medical cannabis industry, they put out a leaflet. On that leaflet they said we have 50 years of ganja planting, we have 2,500 farmers and, therefore, come to St. Vincent to invest.
“So, they used ganja men and in the end, nothing for ganja men. Today, I talk to a ganja farmer. I asked him, ‘What have they done for you lately?’ He said, ‘Patel, not a thing.’”
Matthew said he feels ganja farmer’s pain.
“… and that is why the New Democratic Party will change the legislation to ensure that ganja men benefit for their hard work.
“I always say to you when the people were shooting and fellas been running for donkey years, it was the ganja men. They are the ones who carried the industry on their back and that is why we were able to have a medical cannabis industry today.
“So, ganja men, better days are coming to you. Better days are coming. Up to now, with all these money going around, whether $16 [million] — Jerrol, 15 [million] Camillo, or 6 [million] Ralph, nothing for the ganja men; it is a sin, it is shameful, it is a disgrace, and we will correct that. We will find out where the money went.”
Matthew said that the NDP was the first political party in SVG to take to the people the issue of the legalisation of ganja.
He said that between 2015 and 2016, the NDP held a town hall meeting in Fitz Hughes where it made certain declarations.
“We said that when you support the NDP we will legalise marijuana in small portions. We said we would expunge the records of persons who are in jail … for small amounts of marijuana.
“We said that you would be allowed to plant at your home between one to five plants. We said that.
“We say to you that young men, because we understand marijuana is a fashionable thing, people are taking a spliff (marijuana cigarette) every now and then, we said we will make it legalised for small portions up to two ounces. You can smoke it without the police harassing you. We said that.
“We carried that message and the people understand us. But, lo and behold, this ULP administration because they saw a lot of dollar signs in front, they create a medical marijuana industry and the industry that they create is only to benefit the big boys.
“Today, we have farmers in St. Vincent who they have given licence and the farmers cannot get one ounce of weed sell. According to the legislation, the legislation said that in order to get a licence you must get a buyer, when pressure came and election round the corner, they start to share out licences left, right and centre and nobody benefitting. Nobody benefitting,” Matthews said.