Cannabis growers to be given amnesty period
Once a date is set, people who are illegally growing cannabis in this country will be able to hand over the crop without being criminally prosecuted and potentially be able to sell it for medicinal use.
The Cannabis Cultivation (Amnesty) Act (2018) was the second cannabis related Act to be passed on Tuesday in the House of Assembly.
According to agriculture minister Saboto Caesar, the Bill “provides for the grant of an amnesty for the duration and for further periods as may be required to persons engaged in the cultivation of cannabis, contrary to Section 8 of the Drugs Prevention of Misuse Act and any other relevant enactment who may otherwise be liable to criminal prosecution for certain criminal offences and other proceedings under that act or any other relevant enactment enforced”.
In his opening statement during the debate on Tuesday, Caesar said the Bill had nine clauses which were discussed at length in the Select Committee.
He explained that the first draft of the Bill included a date for the commencement of the amnesty period. But this has since been revised to have no specific date, but rather one that is to be appointed by the minister responsible for legal affairs.
This minister is Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves.
Caesar also outlined some of what is included in the Amnesty Act.
He said that the minister may make regulations pertaining to the scientific testing, sale or disposal of cannabis received during the amnesty period.
The Act also requires that persons seeking amnesty are required to submit specific information including “full name and address of persons, national id number, location of land on which land is cultivated or if harvested, the premises where cannabis is stored. A statement indicating quantity of cultivation or if harvested, the quantity of cannabis that is stored at the premises”.
Caesar also said that the police will play a role in the amnesty process.
The cannabis is subject to inspection and the Cannabis Authority will also have a role to play in various processes which will essentially lead to making a recommendation to the minister for the issuance of a certificate of amnesty.
And persons granted amnesty “shall not engage in cultivation of cannabis during the amnesty, save and except for the harvesting of said cannabis cultivated on or before the commencement of the amnesty period. And after the amnesty period, save and except under a license issued under the Medicinal Cannabis Industry Act.”
“The intention Mr Speaker, is that those persons who have cannabis currently cultivated and who have cannabis cultivated on the date that will be gazetted, that those persons will be allowed and the opportunity will be there for them to bring their cannabis in and regulations will be drafted as to how that cannabis can be tested and possibly sold or disposed. That’s basically what is taking place here,” Caesar said. “It is a best practice that was outlined in several of the reviews by the international narcotic control board whereby persons who have engaged in illicit cultivation of not only cannabis but coca, that these persons can transition without reliance because the commodities that they have, could be used for scientific research and/or medicinal purposes which falls squarely within respect for our treaty obligations.”
Godwin Friday, opposition leader rose in Parliament to add to the debate of this Bill.
He said that he understood the intention of the Bill and expressed hope that the specific intention of permitting persons who have been cultivating illegally to transition to legal cultivation be realized.
“But if you go through the specific provisions of the Bill and to understand how it may function, one immediately sees Mr Speaker that there are, as a practical person, some serious concerns as to how it will actually work,” Friday said.
And he posed several questions in this regard.
The opposition leader questioned who qualified to receive amnesty; “Is it anyone who is in cultivation who wishes to say that I’m done with the business or does the person have to be a person who will engage as a traditional cultivator who applies for a traditional cultivators license?”
Friday referenced several clauses of the Bill and pointed out that there may be individuals who wished to surrender their illegal cannabis but have no interest in continuing cultivation.
He also questioned what would happen to individuals after the amnesty period is over.
“Is this going to be a situation where now the attitude of the liberal approach that has been adopted by law enforcement in the past, is that going to be a moment of change?,” Friday asked.
He continued that Caesar and some other members of the Government side admitted “… that it’s possible, maybe even expected that a number of persons may decide that they will continue what they’re doing. We’ve all acknowledged it’s illegal, but we have described the context in which it has been done historically and the question remains, what happens going forward.”
The opposition leader shared his concern that the role of traditional farmers in the cannabis industry will be extremely limited and said that it ought to be to the benefit first and foremost to the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Other members on the opposition side also expressed similar concerns during their debate presentations including Senator Kay Bacchus-Baptiste, member for North Leeward, Roland ‘Patel’ Matthews and member for Central Kingstown, St Clair ‘Major’ Leacock.
Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, in his presentation, said that unlike St Vincent and the Grenadines, other countries have no provisions in their amnesty laws for the sale of cannabis.
“This provides the option, the possibility of it being sold to somebody, which has a license, a relevant license under the cannabis industry bill to purchase, to utilise here as medical cannabis or to export, assuming that all of the conditions are satisfied. I don’t think you could get something more straightforward than this and more sensible and more helpful,” he said.
Gonsalves, who will have the responsibility for setting the date upon which amnesty will begin, also cited several clauses of the Bill in an effort to explain some of the provisions.
Quoting from Clause 3, he said that for amnesty to be granted, several conditions must be met.
These conditions include registering with the Cannabis Authority and submitting certain types of information.
“Let’s face it. If you’re going to get the amnesty, the authority has to know who you are and other details about you in relation to parcel of land and land you have been cultivating marijuana on,” he said, while describing provisions of the bill as “straightforward”.
Gonsalves added that “an amnesty date will be announced from period A to period B and the law says it goes to period A but we have to extend it, we will extend it further and there will be announcements, and the police have standard operating procedures. The police will say if you want more information on this as to how we are going to function, you can check us here. The Authority will say you can check us there. In the normal way of doing things. This is not a mystery. When we give amnesty for firearms, people call the police; the police make announcements.”
Other members who participated in the debate included member for North Windward Montgomery Daniel, finance minister Camillo Gonsalves and Senator Luke Browne.
The Medicinal Cannabis Industry Act (2018) was also passed in Parliament on Tuesday.