As this country seeks to establish its medicinal marijuana industry, there is a state of confusion surrounding the amount of money already collected by the Medicinal Cannabis Authority, how the amnesty for traditional farmers is to be implemented and whether it is now legal to cultivate marijuana in this country without license.
That confusion has become more evident in recent times.
Last year, head of the Medicinal Cannabis Authority DrJerrol Thompson said $16 million had already been collected for licenses. But, Minister of Finance Camillo Gonsalvessubsequently said $15 million were collected. To compound he issue, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves said in December that five million dollars were collected.
Earlier this week, the issue of cultivation came into sharp focus following the arrest of two Fitzhughes residents during a police raid carried out on a farm at Richmond, North Leeward.
“At this moment in St Vincent, is the planting of marijuana legal or illegal?”
North Leeward Member of Parliament Roland ‘Patel’ Matthews asked the question when he called to the Current Affairs interactive programme on NICE Radio Tuesday night.
“Now, if legislation was passed to make cultivation of cannabis legal, and that was binding as of today, would the guys in Fitzhughes have been arrested? Matthews asked, noting that he had earlier stated that although he legislation was passed in December 2018 it was not yet “practicable.”
“Why are you blaming the police? Why not the government?” the North Leeward MP asked.
Matthews further asked if it could be said that the police committed an illegal act by raiding the marijuana plantation of a traditional farmer, arresting two persons on the farm, on Tuesday.
“I have always said that the way that this administration is going about this procedure with regards to traditional farmers and marijuana cultivation, they are going about it the wrong way.
“Now, how could you tell me that you have a situation where you have the Medical Cannabis Authority visiting farms, based on the legislation – you visit the farm, you know where the farm is located, you know what is being planted – but yet that same farm is being raided.
“This whole thing is confusing. It is confusing,” the North Leeward MP and New Democratic Party (NDP) vice president said.
Minister of Agriculture Saboto Caesar, who piloted the amnesty bill, told parliament in May last year that the Act was to be made operational in early June then.
Caesar was at the time responding to a question from the opposition Member of Parliament for North Leeward.
Minister Caesar said the Act provides for granting of an amnesty for a duration, and for further periods as may be required, to those involved in cannabis cultivation contrary to Section 8 of the Drug Prevention and Misuse Act, and any other relevant enactments, who may otherwise be liable to criminal prosecution for certain criminal offences and other proceedings under that Act or other relevant proceedings enforced.
Caesar said then that the regulations had been drafted and they were slated to be gazetted on, or before, June 3rd and fully operational on, or before, June 3rd 2019.
Addressing the question of why the amnesty was not in place before, the Minister of Agriculture stated; “The police, which will play a very critical role in putting the operations together, they are working on the practical framework as to how it will function. The cannabis which is to be received will have to be processed and we have to ensure that the facilities are in place to receive the cannabis.”
Caesar further said that security companies will be engaged in the movement of the cannabis.
“The Amnesty law kicks in when people who are cultivating – and there are traditional cultivators who’ve received licenses, both individually and in group – when they get those licenses and they start. They make the application for the amnesty – that’s when the amnesty kicks in.
The fact that a man grows weed, they catch him at sea with 10, 15, 20, 30, 40 pounds the amnesty don’t apply to that. How the amnesty apply to that?” Prime Minister Gonsalves told reporters at Cabinet Room last year.
It is claimed that under the amnesty, the traditional marijuana, not grown under specified conditions, will be sold to investors.
Calling to the Current Affairs radio programme on Tuesday night, former state prosecutor Carl Williams, a member of the Rastafari community, said the cannabis amnesty legislation is for traditional farmers who have marijuana already planted and not for persons to go planting marijuana to await the amnesty.