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House passes two Cannabis bills, NDP expresses concerns

House passes two Cannabis bills, NDP expresses concerns
Roland ‘Patel’ Matthews, the member for North Leeward

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Despite being in support of the Medicinal Cannabis Industry Bill (2018), members of the Opposition have said that there are several matters that have not been adequately addressed under the legislation.

The Medicinal Cannabis Industry Act was passed on Tuesday morning, following extensive presentations from both sides of the House on the matter.
The objective of the Act is “to provide for the establishment of a medicinal cannabis industry to regulate the supply, possession and use of cannabis for medicinal purposes, for the treatment of persons with qualifying conditions, to provide for the establishment of the Medicinal Cannabis Authority and the Medicinal Cannabis Advisory Council and for matters and purposes incidental thereto”.

“I don’t believe that today, anybody has any problem with medicinal marijuana because they have tried it, you have tested it even before the scientists of the world; we the people of St Vincent have been using marijuana for centuries. So there is no question at whether or not … this side will support the medical marijuana industry,” Roland ‘Patel’ Matthews, the member for North Leeward said.

Matthews, who grew up in Petit Bordel, attested to the positive socio-economic impacts that marijuana cultivation had on the small North Leeward community and the many illnesses that the herb has been used for in a medicinal aspect.

House passes two Cannabis bills, NDP expresses concerns
Saboto Caesar

And he expressed his view that the bill should be fashioned not only to benefit local or foreign investors but people “upon whose backs this bill…came out of”.

“I believe recreational marijuana is something that we should have given consideration to,” he said. “We in this House, we behave as if we are afraid to do certain things, and I thought that when we fashioned this bill, it would not have been done in a way with all the restrictions as if we were creating an industry for certain people.”

Matthews further expressed that the world was heading in a particular direction with regard to marijuana and that it was time for St Vincent to “free up the herb”.

Senator Kay Bacchus-Baptiste also expressed similar sentiments in her presentation that recreational marijuana should be legalised. And she used an excerpt from the 2018 report from the CARICOM Regional Commission on Marijuana to support this point.

House passes two Cannabis bills, NDP expresses concerns
A section of the visitors in the Strangers’ Gallery at the House of Assembly on Tuesday.

She also proposed that amendments be made to exclude marijuana as being labelled as a dangerous drug in the Drug Act.

The senator also pointed out that when investors export medicinal cannabis from St Vincent, we are not sure that it would not be used for recreational purposes and she described this as being unfair to locals.

“Cannabis, marijuana is a victimless crime …and yet we have marijuana being treated as if it is so dangerous,” Browne-Baptiste said.

Other members on the Opposition benches of the House also contributed to the debate including opposition leader Dr Godwin Friday, member for West Kingstown Daniel Cummings, member for Central Kingstown St Clair ‘Major’ Leacock and member for South Leeward Nigel Stevenson.

Government Senator Luke Browne added his voice to the debate to say that the medicinal cannabis industry bill was one of the most important bills to come to the House.

He also said that as the minister with responsibility for health, he has a great interest in the bill.

Browne noted that science has proven that marijuana in various forms can bring relief to a number of ailments and medical conditions including epilepsy, post traumatic stress disorder, sleep disorder, anxiety and depression.

But he said that focus should not be shifted from the actual subject of the bill being debated.

“I don’t want us to conflate the issues so that we can’t make progress forward on the subject which is actually before us,” the health minister said. “In all of this conversation that we’re having, we have to keep in mind that we are talking about marijuana for medicinal use. We are not talking about marijuana for recreational use. That conversation is a conversation that could perhaps take place in a fuller sense at a different place in a different time.”

Saboto Caesar, the agriculture minister tabled all three cannabis bills in Parliament.

And in his wrap up to the debate on the medicinal cannabis bill, he highlighted some of the benefits of the establishment of medicinal cannabis industry.

In addressing some concerns of the Opposition, Caesar said that the amount of money to be made with a medicinal cannabis industry is dependent on a number of factors.

These include the standard of cannabis being produced, climate and the ability to produce cannabis all year round and the export possibilities.

“In a new space, there will be a lot of questions, but the tissue culture lab is already engaged and at the Cabinet level, a cannabis research and development unit has already been established,” Caesar said.

The agriculture minister also said that plans are being put in place for investors to contribute their expertise in other agricultural related areas.

And he added that the value chain attached to a medicinal cannabis industry is expansive with room for cultivators, processors, transporters, legal professionals, lab services medical doctors, security companies and building contractors among others.

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves, finance minister Camillo Gonsalves and member for West St George Montgomery Daniel, the member for North Windward Senator Julian Francis and Senator Carlos James were the Government members who also contributed to the debate in the House of Assembly.

A second bill regarding cannabis, the Cannabis Cultivation (Amnesty) Bill (2018), which allows for the granting of amnesty to persons engaged in the cultivation of cannabis, contrary to Section 8 of the Drug Prevention of Misuse Act, was also debated and passed on Tuesday evening.

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