By Robertson S. Henry
KINGSTOWN, St Vincent — The St Vincent and the Grenadines Parliament met in session on Monday, with top of the order paper for debate, being The Medicinal Cannabis Industry Bill 2018, and the Cannabis Cultivation (Amnesty) Bill 2018.
A third bill – the Permitted Use of Cannabis for Religious Purpose Bill 2018 – was shelved because, according to prime minister and leader of government business, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, the Rastafarian community had made pertinent representations on the use of cannabis for religious purposes.
In presenting the Bills, minister for agriculture, Saboto Caesar, told the House that the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of countries has been grappling with agriculture production for many years.
He noted that cannabis cultivation, as an addition to the list of agricultural products from St Vincent and the Grenadines, is a positive expansion of the country’s agricultural sector and that there is an opening for a modern medicinal cannabis industry.
There was plenty of cross talk, especially when opposition parliamentarian Patel Mathews took to the microphone. He reiterated an earlier statement that it was a historic day for St Vincent and the Grenadines, and the day’s sitting presented a unique opportunity to fashion an industry where the traditional cultivators would be major players.
Health minister, Senator Luke Brown, spoke extensively on the health issues and functions of the Advisory Board within the Bill.
Senator Carlos James reminded members of the statement that he made in the House five years ago that the new international airport could spur on a cannabis industry. He went on to state that, through extensive research, cannabis is now proven to be containing valuable medicinal properties.
James called for the conversation outside the walls of Parliament to continue
During his turn at the microphone, leader of the opposition, Dr Godwin Friday, spoke of the changing international environment and its effect on small island states.
Opposition Member of Parliament Sinclair Leacock pointed out that many were misled about marijuana in times past, and he disagreed with Minister Camillo Gonsalves’ statement earlier this year that marijuana, stripped of its illegality, is just another crop.
He chided the government for being too cautious, and took swipes at the government for the absence of clarity on the make-up of the four committee members on the Board. He questioned the absence of the traditional cultivator on the Board, and that there are persons on the Board who are not producers; making decisions that will affect the traditional cultivator.
Minister of lands, Montgomery Daniel, told the Sitting that the chief surveyor, upon request, gave him the list of pieces of government owned lands. The total acreage of lands is approximately 3,500 acres.
Daniel also gave members an outline of the various classes of licenses available in the Medicinal Cannabis Bill, and the benefits that could be derived when the arrowroot industry is combined with the medicinal industry. He informed members that arrowroot powder is the base used in many pharmaceuticals, and St Vincent and the Grenadines is poised to take full advantage of such a combination.
The debate on the draft Medicinal Cannabis Industry Bill 2018, and the Cannabis Cultivation (Amnesty) Bill 2018, respectively was expected to conclude on Tuesday when the Sitting resumes.