“Time is money” is the age-old adage Jamaica will soon come to realise as the country continues its journey to develop a viable cannabis industry.
Five years since the decriminalisation of small amounts of ganja, other countries within the region have sought to capitalise on the opportunity. Potential competitors, currently drafting regulations, include Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, St Kitts and Nevis, and Trinidad and Tobago.
However, first out of the starting blocks is St Vincent and the Grenadines which, in December 2018, became the first eastern Caribbean country to pass legislation decriminalising cannabis for medicinal and scientific purposes.
In an interview with The Sunday Gleaner, Dr Jerrol Thompson, CEO of St Vincent’s Medicinal Cannabis Authority, explained that his country has a number of unique enabling factors that put it in a prime position to achieve its ambitious aspirations in the international market.
“St Vincent is proud that it is able to utilise several important strategic advantages, including our abundance of sun and clean, fresh water. We have always known that we have a very special type of soil called molic andisol, which is a volcanic soil that only occupies less than one per cent of the earth’s crust. It is very loose, doesn’t hold a lot of water, has a high level of phosphate minerals and is one of the perfect soils for cannabis growing,” he said.
Yet, this is not the only factor that contributes to his country’s potential.
Dr Thompson added that St Vincent and the Grenadines boasts of having a robust regulatory environment and the necessary corresponding banking relationships, which make it an attractive location to do business.
“We have been quite lucky largely because our government owns the majority share in one of our commercial banks. This allows for the flow of money for licences to pass between St Vincent and Canada on a legal basis, which totally excludes any use of US currency because of the federal restrictions that exist,” he expounded.
INVESTMENTS IN R&D
This positive factor has also been matched by investments the country has made in research and development. This includes partnering with Ample Organics, a leading seed-to-sale software company in Canada, which enables the government to track the cultivation of the plant nationally.
Dr Thompson also revealed that St Vincent has recently constructed a state-of-the-art laboratory that facilitates the testing of multiple produce, including raw flower, oils and infused products.
The country has also made certain allowances for its numerous local farmers.
“The traditional cultivator does not pay a licence fee for the first year. That is a deliberate effort to ensure that he is an essential part of the industry. In terms of market entry, an effort is being made to facilitate the ease and the cost of entry,” he said.
“This doesn’t mean that they don’t have to put up things like chain-link fencing and camera systems, but they have been able to get away with some rudimentary fencing such as barbed wire. The hope is that they will upgrade their particular plant at the appropriate time as the Medicinal Cannabis Authority so directs them.”
These measures have also been coupled with an alternate security arrangement, where groups of traditional cultivators provide security for their own farms, eliminating the need for cameras. Investors also play their part in supporting farmers, as the government mandates that they must purchase a certain percentage of products from them and provide assistance in ensuring that good agricultural practices are followed.
In order to tackle the issue of landlessness for small farmers, Dr Thompson highlighted that, “We have basically allocated almost 240 acres at the disposal of these traditional cultivators. This allows for what we call an ‘intensive cannabis cultivation zone’, where all the security and regulatory processes are put in place and good agricultural practices can be concentrated.”
FIRST TO ENGAGE
Leading cannabis export adviser and policy adviser, Marcus Ramkissoon, explained that despite the size of its domestic tourist market, St Vincent is on track to be the first country in the Caribbean to engage in a noteworthy export industry.
“They are the only people like Jamaicans who have been doing it for a long time cheaply and it is culturally ingrained. So they will be, thanks to their government, the first people to engage in real export from the Caribbean. While Barbados and Trinidad will be the biggest of the domestic industries,” he stated.
In the end, time will judge the success of St Vincent and the Grenadines’ efforts as it aims to enter the world stage of the international cannabis industry.