Medicinal Marijuana: Will the rest of the Caribbean buy in?

As Jamaica moves towards getting a slice of global profits, will the rest of the region come to agree on a way forward?

WORTH IT: Medicinal marijuana is a multi-million dollar industry

CALL IT herb, weed, ganja or whatever you like: once-outlawed cannabis now supports a global medical industry worth US $150billion (£116.4bn) – and the Caribbean wants a share of the spoils.

Jamaica has been making great strides in that direction, but now other countries in the region are looking to make the most of the growing opportunities. However, there is concern in some quarters that the region is not speaking with one voice on the issue. Some politicians have warned that without greater cooperation between islands, the Caribbean could blow its chances.

It’s all a long way from the 1970s, when reggae star Peter Tosh, urged governments around
the world to embrace marijuana. Tosh said: “Legalise it and I will advertise it.”

Sadly, he didn’t live to see the day, but now medical cannabis is used to treat a range of illnesses including pain, inflammation and epileptic seizures. Recreational use of the drug is also being increasingly tolerated in various parts of the world, as legal changes have incorporated decriminalisation of marijuana use.

Personal use

When Jamaica announced its move into the global medical cannabis market, it also decriminalised the use of small amounts of ganja, with possession of two ounces or less of the weed downgraded to a petty offence.

A Jamaican household is also now allowed to grow up to five cannabis plants for personal and religious use, acknowledging Rastafarians’ veneration of the plant. At the start of October, Jamaica’s Agriculture Minister, Audley Shaw, announced that the country would be partnering with the Harvard International Phytomedicines and Medical Cannabis Institute (HIPI) in the United States on initiatives to improve Jamaica’s competitiveness in the global cannabis industry.

From September 30 to October 2, Jamaica hosted a CanEx Jamaica Business Conference and Expo, bringing together cannabis industry experts from the US, Canada, South and Central America, Europe, Australia and the Caribbean.

Others to follow

Since Jamaica passed its 2015 Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act, 44 medical cannabis production licences have been issued, with another 11 pending. The island exported medical marijuana-extracted oil for the first time in September 2018 and has attracted partnerships with players in the Canadian and US medical cannabis industries. Meanwhile, other parts of the Caribbean have been taking note.

Antigua & Barbuda announced the membership of its Medicinal Cannabis Authority in April this year. The panel of senior health, research, substance abuse, police, pharmacy, agriculture and religious officials has power over regulation and control of every stage of the medical cannabis industry and has been receiving applications.

St Kitts & Nevis set up a National Marijuana Commission and said in July that it planned a phased approach to getting into the medical cannabis industry. In Barbados, a parliamentary Joint Select Committee has been hearing views on the Medicinal Cannabis Industry Bill (2019), introduced to parliament in August.

Health experts, legal consultants and religious groups have been making their views known on the country’s move into the industry. Cannabis investment advisory website Grizzle said that Barbados was looking at ensuring that Barbadians own at least 30 percent of future medical cannabis production companies on the island.

Co-operation?

In July of this year, St Vincent & the Grenadines approved more than 30 licences for cultivation, development and export of medical marijuana products. The country’s Medicinal Cannabis Authority (MCA) said that the new licence holders included local farmers’ cooperatives, other local farmers, some Rastafarian agricultural groups and 10 companies with directors from the wider Caribbean, North America, Europe and Africa.

Trinidad & Tobago has announced a possible interest in the industry and said in September that it had a package of legislation ready. Dominica and Grenada are also looking at the whole issue of decriminalisation and the medical cannabis industry.

In September, St Vincent expressed concerns that the move into the medical cannabis industry had not been a co-ordinated Caribbean approach. “So many of our regional initiatives have failed because we pit one small island developing state against another and collectively, we devalue our shared value proposition,” St Vincent and the Grenadines Agriculture Minister Saboto Caesar, told the CanEx Conference in September.

“My fear is that, if Caribbean leaders don’t get the cannabis strategy right, we may end up losing out on one of the most lucrative exports in our region’s history – more lucrative than bananas, tobacco, cotton or sugar cane,” the minister added.

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