St. Vincent and the Grenadines is poised to experience high times, as the country prepares to revolutionize its marijuana laws, and legally embrace medical cannabis.
The government of the day led by Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, earlier this year, assigned one of the youngest members of the Cabinet, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries, Industry and Rural Transformation, Hon. Saboto Caesar to deviate from the post-colonial practice of criminalizing cannabis, and prosecuting anyone found in possession of it, regardless of the quantity.
In this the 39th year of political independence from British colonial rule, the Vincentian component of the Caribbean civilization has arisen from the ashes with valor, adequately prepared and positioned to dismantle the neo-colonial, anti-cannabis mental shackles. The country is determined to chart a new course and decidedly rule its own destiny.
The establishment of a modern medical cannabis industry necessitates a paradigm shift that, many would agree, is already pregnant with possibilities. Job creation in the cultivation, processing, export handling and the various ancillary services, in addition to the indirect spinoff effect from a legal cannabis industry can’t be overstated.
The path forward, however, is still not immediately crystal clear. It involves navigating the choppy-uncharted waters in an industry that has long been viewed as an underground economic activity, mired with crime, and money laundering activities.
It involves contending with the prevailing winds of a colonial mentality that reduces anything local to that of a low-culture status. But, now the, so-called, developed countries are legalizing the herb, cashing in on its medical and economic benefits, former critics have become openly supportive of the miracle plant.
The new paradigm, therefore, must penetrate the foggy conditions of uncertainty that obscure the path for a prescribed social acceptance of, probably, the most controversial plant of the 20th and 21st centuries put together. So far there is much to celebrate. “Much to please and little to fault” is a plausible conclusion.
Despite frequent gusts of unfriendly criticisms from bow to stern, the minister responsible for Industry, Hon. Saboto Caesar; the proverbial captain on the medical cannabis ship, made a historical breakthrough when he tabled three draft cannabis bills for their first reading in the Parliament of St. Vincent and the Grenadines on September 6th, 2018.
The bills later moved to a Select Committee for deliberation, comprising parliamentarians from both the government and the opposition sides in the Legislature, and representatives from civil society. On July 26, 2018 the government released the draft bills focusing on medical extraction and treatments; the religious right to use cannabis as a sacrament within the place of worship; and an amnesty for traditional marijuana growers.
The launch of the legal vessel to mobilise all efforts for establishing a medical cannabis industry in the eastern Caribbean nation was a success.
Captain Caesar and his supportive crew of Vincentian nationals and potential investors, should remain committed and sail forward boldly.
While November 20th would be recorded as a significant day in the history of cannabis reform for St Vincent and the Grenadines, it would also demand an even greater public awareness effort geared to encouraging a behavioral change toward all things cannabis.
The subject matter should serve as an instrument of unity, not division. With this in mind, there is no need to remain stagnant marking time, while succumbing to a self induced paralysis of fear for the unknown. Retreat is not an option.
Since September 6th, 2018, all eyes have been fixed on destination November 20/2018. On that day the draft bills are expected to return from the Select Committee stage for a 2nd reading at the next sitting of Parliament, followed by a debate among members in the House of Assembly.
Although the coast is still not yet crystal clear, forecasters say conditions ahead seem favorable for a smooth sail to realizing the socio-economic opportunities only a cannabis industry can generate. Opportunities that would catapult St Vincent and the Grenadines into high times.
SVG country has had a long history of outdoor cannabis production, dating back to the early 1970s. That’s according to a Rastafari elder and member of the churchical order of the Nyabinghi faith, within the Rastafari movement in SVG.
Commercial farming of the herb, he said, spiked in the early 1980s and individuals who were not identified as Rastafari also journeyed to the mountainous interior of the country to plant ganga. That decision was never an easy road.
Farmers had to contend with multiple, at times deadly police operations, destructive farm raids that included the destruction of vegetable crops and other agricultural produce.
Although Ganga farming was a livelihood for many, the lives of many families were also uprooted over the years as scores of fathers and other breadwinners were dragged before the courts, charged with cultivation, possession or trafficking of various quantities of the herb.
That arrest culture is still prevalent even as the country seeks to readjust its compass and re-examine whether Ganga has truly been a ‘blessing our a curse’ for the nation over the past decades. That debate will continue for sometime.
Nonetheless, the combined benefits of year long tropical weather conditions, fertile volcanic soil, knowledge transfer and development among our hardworking-skilled Vincentian farmers, and other nationals who would take up jobs in the local cannabis field, are expected to help elevate St Vincent and the Grenadines to international eminence in the rapidly expanding global cannabis industry.
There is a wind of change toward cannabis acceptance circling the globe and it’s also funneling through the Caribbean. As that wind blows into SVG’s sails, it will very likely propel the country through some uncharted territory before eventually helping the Vincentian economy soar to new heights. For SVG, any form of legal cannabis would significantly transform rural and urban communities, and, subsequently, the national economy.
Many analysts are anticipating an explosion of new jobs and business opportunities touching and concerning every sector of the Vincentian economy. An economic space to be redefined and refashioned by the esoteric rise of ganjaprenuers throughout the multi island state.