Medicinal cannabis laws must protect indigenous populations

(By Robertson S. Henry) – Many countries that are rapidly reforming their cannabis laws, after the decades long war on drugs, has proven to be an abject failure.

This so-called war on drugs has destroyed lives, done untold damage to economies, while enriching the pockets of unscrupulous politicians and consultants – billions as of dollars are spent through criminal justice systems.

It is estimated that over one trillion dollars has been spent on this useless war on drugs over the past five decades, with the implementation of the draconian policies contrived by opportunistic and greedy individuals.

Small island state systems like the Caribbean have experienced untold damage to food crops under the guise of this so-called war on drugs, in an attempt by multi-national corporations to bring to heel, through their version of economic terrorism, governments and peoples who do not conform to their political ideals.

Examples are the Dole and Chiquita banana wars on the Windward Islands, and the attacks on Caribbean islands’ coconut oil industry; both backed by the American government.

With the cry for the legislation of cannabis, and cannabis by-products gaining momentum, there is an urgent need for all involved to ensure that there is an Improved Regulatory Framework, to protect the indigenous population, and the economic well-being of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

The current legal framework falls terribly short of what was intended, as many persons consume cannabis on a daily basis regardless of the law. The intention of an improved regulatory framework must be to minimize the harm associated with cannabis consumption, possession, cultivation and trafficking; while maximizing the plant’s potential benefits, in terms of both health and the economy.

With more focus being beamed on the tourism sector, and a large food import bill which is increasing every year, the expected passing of the medicinal cannabis legislation on November 20th, 2018; can spawn a new economic revolution in the creation of new jobs, reduce crime, improve the health of persons, and introduce a new sports culture.

There are several reasons supportive of the legalization of medicinal cannabis, but one of the most important to the country is the economic benefits that it will bring. The main GDP earner was agriculture in the 1790s, 1980s and 1990s, but with the advent of the World Trade Organisation and new trading regimes, the Caribbean lost its preferential trading status enjoyed under the LOME convention. That signaled the end of the Caribbean banana industry which subsequently played a major part in the island’s socio-economic decline.

Along with the legislation of medicinal cannabis, it would be wise for the government to withdraw hemp from regulation and allow an industrial hemp initiative to move forward and conduct research trials on hemp, in order to develop a cultivar or cultivars that could be introduced into St. Vincent and the Grenadines agricultural diversification program.

The government must not just stop with the legislation of medicinal cannabis, but push for programmes which would fully utilize as much of the raw material derived from the cannabis plant, to nucleate a host of other potential industries, such as high end body care, clothing, and food to name a few.

Many farmers are already involved in the cultivation of coconuts and coconut oil, cocoa, and several other locally grown crops which can help to augment the overwhelming range of fine cannabis products that potentially are well within the reach of Vincentians and their partners to explore.

Hemp can help reestablish both the coconut and cocoa industries, further increasing the potential earnings of farmers from these crops.

In addition to the economic potential of the medicinal cannabis industry, there are a multitude of hemp products which can be produced, and the already lucrative local recreational cannabis market, which is estimated to be worth about EC$60,000,000.00 per year.

The developing tourism economy will be further leveraged by the medicinal cannabis industry as the foundation for a new and vibrant wellness tourism industry, and by providing both hemp and cannabis products in safe and secure environments, such as licensed coffee shops.

Farmers once considered criminals, will now be accepted as respected farmers and business people contributing to the Vincentian economy, while the potential of the youth will no longer be neutered to satisfy the criminalization of a plant for all the wrong reasons.

Following the November 20th 2018 expected passage of the Medicinal Cannabis Bills, the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines must give urgent consideration to broadening the legalisation process.

Consideration for reparations in all areas for cannabis crimes are non-violent. There should an immediate amnesty on incarceration for any person serving a sentence for a cannabis crime. No remand for violations of cannabis laws, no incarceration for any cannabis crime, only financial or non-custodial penalties, and that all cannabis criminal records be expunge.

Although there are so many positive aspects to legalizing cannabis, there are also public health issues which must be recognized and addressed. The potential use by minors and the mentally challenged; the issue of COPD brought on prematurely by the use of cannabis mixed with tobacco, and the potential abuse of cannabis; are some of the health issues which must be examined.

Along with legalization, there must be education and health programs to deal with these issues in order to protect the most vulnerable.  A national cannabis education programme should be developed, aimed at delaying use till 18 year of age, and that the suggested legislation should consolidate all public smoking regulations for tobacco and cannabis.