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The medicinal marijuana industry – only time will tell

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Since the testing last week of samples of our local marijuana to determine the chemical profiles of different strains, the direction this country should take in the establishment of a legal marijuana industry has been a hot topic of discussion, whereever Vincentians gather in real or virtual life.

SEARCHLIGHT’s live feed of the tests on our Facebook page has so far engaged over 21,000 viewers, who have had much to say about the exercise and our country’s wisdom and prospects or lack thereof, in venturing into the industry.

The Government has said for the time being, it will limit its involvement to medicinal marijuana, as there remains a substantial percentage of Vincentians who are opposed to the legalization of marijuana for recreational use. At the same time, the Government has said that it has instructed the police not to prosecute people found with small quantities of marijuana, like a spliff, or rastafarians engaged in the use of the herb in their religious ceremonies.

St Vincent and the Grenadines is a tiny developing nation, searching for viable options to grow our economy for the benefit of all the people. To say no to exploring the options available to us by developing a tightly controlled medicinal industry would be foolhardy, given our economic realities.

Key in this venture, however, is keeping the industry “tightly controlled,” as the Government has said and correctly positioning ourselves to exploit the opportunities that exist.

The overwhelming consensus among Vincentians is that in this proposed enterprise, we do not want only to be primary producers of the crop, stuck with mere crumbs at the bottom of the value chain. We must take our place at the table with the decision makers and be part of the process of adding value. Having a say and a share in the profits calls for investment, so this is the point at which those with the means should step forward.

It is early days yet, but as we move forward and the parameters of our medicinal industry are established, the challenges associated with setting up a venture of this type will begin to reveal themselves. One of these challenges is the two-tiered legal system which will come with the legalization of marijuana for medicinal use only. Cultivation, possession and use of the crop in St Vincent and the Grenadines will be legal in certain circumstances, but not in others. This would required more regulation than currently exists, not less. Marijuana farmers, manufacturing plants, medical doctors and dispensing centres will need to be licensed and all persons who become engaged in this new industry must demonstrate that they are obeying the law precisely, as intended.

We know, of course, that no system of marijuana regulation can prevent all forms of potential abuse of the law, but preparing for the inevitable will help in mitigation.

The marijuana industry clearly has the capacity to offer increased revenues to the Treasury. Moving part of the industry from the underground economy to the legal economy should significantly broaden our tax base, if the industry develops as we intend.

Only time will reveal the full consequences of legalizing the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, but we are at a point in our development that demands heightened scrutiny from the people, the willingness of local investors to come forward and the creation of a regulatory framework by the authorities that reduces the harm that comes from the abuse of the drug, while enhancing the potential economic benefit of the industry to the country.

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