Saint Lucia on course to establish a Cannabis Industry

Stakeholders Sign MOU to Form Caribbean Cannabis Forum

By Reginald Andrew

This week, regional stakeholders completed a two-day Caribbean Cannabis Symposium in Saint Lucia, where relevant factors were discussed on the way forward for a fully regulated and sustainable cannabis industry.

Addressing the gathering on Wednesday, the second day of the conference, Commerce Minister Emma Hippolyte said  that it was highly imperative to establish a robust industry as the stakes are high on the global market for a standardised quality commodity. She said that the formation of a Regulated Substance Authority can be viewed as a milestone in this movement towards establishment of the industry.

The conference was viewed as an opportune time for discussions, as Saint Lucia plans to transit towards the establishment of a cannabis industry. The Symposium brought together representatives from various CARICOM islands with similar laws and policies regarding Cannabis.

The St. Lucia Bureau of Standards (SLBS) and the Ministry of Commerce play pivotal roles as leading stakeholders in this regional thrust towards the establishment of a cannabis industry.

“The establishment of a robust, inclusive and safe cannabis industry is the priority of the government of Saint Lucia and is and has been a project that the Ministry of Commerce has spared no effort in ensuring that we receive adequate resources and support,” declared Hippolyte.

Reflecting on the journey thus far, she said that the commerce ministry has come a long way from five years ago to be championing the movement for cannabis legislation in Saint Lucia.

Minister Hippolyte acknowledged the input from a cadre of informed and experienced technical individuals  and various other groups assisting the ministry with this venture.

She recalled that in 2019, with input from Invest Saint Lucia [ISL], government initiated a process of investigation or exploration to ascertain whether the time was right to remove the legislative regime surrounding cannabis on island and to replace the regime of restriction with one of regulation.

After lengthy discussions, it was agreed that the time had arrived to remove the complete prohibition of cannabis and implement instead a regime, which would include cultivation, manufacturing and use of cannabis and cannabis products under a regulated framework.

Therefore, she said, the authorities set out to develop a regime surrounding cannabis to commensurate with the developmental framework and parameters for the industry.

Ultimately, the Regulated Substances Act of 2022 came into force and the government established a legislative body – The Regulated Substance Authority.

This authority , the statutory body under the Ministry of Commerce, served as a  milestone in the establishment of the regime of regulations, she said.

The minister explained that authority would not be limited solely to monitoring aspects of cannabis, but would serve as a regulatory authority, which will be tasked with overseeing this industry and a number of other aspects which require regulation.

The minister said that the direct impact of the industry is to generate economic spinoffs that can benefit cultivators, manufacturers, retailers and service producers who can provide traditional and support services to this new industry.

Government officials, stakeholders, and representatives from various regional bodies at the conference

Citing the hazards and deficiencies involved in illegal cultivation, she said, my Ministry will give opportunities to people want to turn their cultivations into  a legal and legitimate enterprise.

While stressing on the importance of education and knowledge-sharing, the minister added, it was also necessary to re-educate our populace on the change, and the culture surrounding not just a plant and its use, but an adequate regulation of our society, generally.

She said the Ministry of Commerce is determined in its quest to establish an adequate, inclusive, economic stirring policy balanced with  safeguards and barometers for safety and security.

She said that the ministry is pleased with the cool and frank discussions that took place over the two days in the thrust to establish the Caribbean Cannabis Forum.

Acknowledging the input from representatives within the CARICOM community, she stated, “We are excited to join you, to learn from you and where possible to teach you. This is not a competition among us, but this should be seen as an opportunity ”

Towards the establishment of a regulated cannabis industry, the minister asserted: “It is critical as small island states that we put our heads, and hearts and hands together to do what is right for our people.”

Tourism Minister Dr. Ernest Hilaire said it was the right time to discuss the emerging cannabis industry initiative. He said that it was also equally important to witness the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that would pave the way for greater collaboration, and information-sharing through the commissioning of a Caribbean Cannabis Forum.

Tracing the origins of the herb plant to the region, he added: “As we chart a way forward for the development of a vibrant, diversified and sustainable cannabis industry it is important to note that the use of the plant in the Caribbean is not a new phenomenon.

“Its use can be traced back to Indian indentured labourers who arrived in the region in the 1800s.”

Nonetheless, he said, the socio-cultural promotion and recognition for cannabis was driven by the Rastafarian movement through the international popularity of its most famous adherence in the 1960s and 1970s.

Saying that the Rastafarians played a pivotal role towards distinguishing our Caribbean history and identity, he asserted: “In light of the socio-cultural context, we as leaders here on this panel must ask ourselves how can we make cannabis work towards our advantage in the modern era.

The tourism minister added that moving beyond a socio-cultural understanding of this phenomenon, cannabis can be regarded as the “most versatile plant on the planet”.

He added: “Its uses and applications range from the manufacturing of bio-degradable plastics, construction material, beauty products, fibres, food, beverages and medicine. Within the context of the Caribbean’s dependence on foreign imports, the plant offers a unique opportunity to reduce the region’s reliance on foreign products, whilst simultaneously expanding domestic production.”

Hilaire stressed that with the region currently entangled in social upheavals and violent crime among the youth, and given the popularity of cannabis among the youth, this gives us an opportunity to leverage them and  steer them towards entrepreneurial endeavours within a new legal framework.

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