Less than two months after two pieces of cannabis reform legislation—the Medicinal Cannabis Industry Bill and the Sacramental Cannabis Bill—passed the Parliament of Barbados, Indar Weir, the country’s Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, announced this week that investors will be able to apply for cultivation licenses as soon as February.
Weir told journalists late on Wednesday that the Barbados Medicinal Cannabis Licensing Authority, established under the bills passed in November, will publish application guidelines and begin accepting proposals for the cultivation of medicinal cannabis within the next few weeks. The Authority expects to begin granting licenses shortly thereafter.
“By February all of the necessary information should be in the public domain, so that the public will be aware of the process and what they have to do to be able to start to apply for licenses,” Weir told the press. She declined to disclose the cost of the various categories of licenses.
Under the Medicinal Cannabis Industry Bill, international businesses are required to set up subsidiaries that are at least 30% Barbadian-owned. However, Weir said that if the country wants to benefit from this prospective industry—which has already garnered interest from local, regional, and international investors—it would need “heavy investment,” which could exclude indigenous and traditional farmers who do not have resources comparable to global players.
According to Weir, who is a parliamentarian with the governing Barbados Labour Party, Barbados can’t afford any further delays in crafting the regulations required to get the industry off the ground.
Under the plan laid out in the Medicinal Cannabis Industry Bill, Barbados will adopt a tiered approach to cultivation licenses, ranging from ‘Tier 1’ licenses, which will allow for the cultivation of up to one acre of cannabis, to ‘Tier 4’ licenses, which would allow for the cultivation of upwards of twenty-five acres of cannabis. All cultivator licenses, irrespective of their tier, will be valid for five years.
Apart from the licenses granted for cultivation, others will be granted for research and development, processing, retail and distribution, import, export, and other activities. The final version of the bill exempted entities that apply for research and development or laboratory licenses from being required to meet local ownership or partnership quotas.
While details have been in short supply on licensing cost, Barbados’s Caribbean neighbor, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, set prices ranging from around USD $1 million for Class E licenses, which allowed for the cultivation of between 100 to 300 acres, and approximately USD $37,000 for Class A, which granted permission to cultivate up to one acre, when it began to issue cultivation licenses last year.
Wednesday’s announcement will make Barbados the fourth Caribbean country to grant cannabis cultivation licenses—behind Jamaica, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Antigua and Barbuda. In pitching the two bills to Parliament last year, Barbados Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley highlighted the impact the move towards medicinal cannabis could have on key economic sectors: agricultural, manufacturing, tourism, and hospitality.
The legislation has faced opposition from both pro-cannabis and anti-cannabis advocates since its introduction in August and subsequent passage in November.
Critics raised a range of issues, including the lack of provisions to transition indigenous or traditional farmers into the legal market, as well as questions over the limited scope of the reforms, which did not include proposals for judicial reform or decriminalization.
According to Verla De Peiza, President of the Democratic Labour Party, one of the country’s opposition groups, the state’s plan excludes indigenous and traditional farmers from having a stake in the global multibillion dollar industry. In comments sent to Cannabis Wire on Thursday, De Peiza said: “The ordinary Barbadian does not have access to that quantity of land for that piece of legislation to have any meaningful impact in their lives. Once again it is relegating our people to be workers for others, instead of creating opportunities for entrepreneurship. And that is why I registered my objection to that piece of legislation.”
De Peiza also said that despite provisions in the Sacramental Cannabis Bill to grant land to members of the Rastafarian faith to grow and cultivate marijuana where they worship, the legislation will have the overall effect of further marginalizing the community. Several activists and stakeholder groups—including the Ichirouganaim Council for the Advancement of Rastafari, which previously supported the bills—have withdrawn their support or threatened court action.
The country’s government, elected in May 2018, had originally proposed a referendum to decriminalize small quantities of cannabis for personal use as a part of the reforms. Under current Barbadian law, an individual who possesses any amount of cannabis for personal use can be fined up to a staggering 250,000 Barbadian Dollars (USD $112,343), or face imprisonment of up to five years. Individuals in possession of more than fifteen grams of cannabis, or any other illegal drug, can be charged with “trafficking” and face up to life in prison.
However, the proposed referendum, months later, is still without a date and the country’s government, has faced strong opposition from conservative groups, such as the country’s Christian community, the Barbados Road Safety Association, and even some members of the governing party. Other groups, including trade unions and the Barbados Association of Medical Practitioners, have called for stricter policies on cannabis usage.
Attorney Liesel Weekes, the former President of the Barbados Bar Association, told Cannabis Wire that the government will have to build the right political climate, via public education campaigns and discussions with interest groups, before proceeding with further reforms.
The challenge, Weekes said, “is that all sectors of society aren’t completely comfortable with the idea of introducing cannabis for any reason in a legalized form. So while that issue is being treated with, I imagine that more information will be given to the population so that they are more informed on why this is a proper step to take.”
Several countries across the Caribbean have moved towards decriminalization of cannabis, with some even offering citizens the right to grow it at home. Similar proposals have faced strong opposition in Barbados.
Weekes explained that decriminalization and the expunging of criminal records, similar to what has been proposed in Trinidad and Tobago, had been part of the initial discussions on the legislation, and are supported across the country’s legal fraternity, as represented by its Bar Association.
However, the case for decriminalization is difficult to make to those who are “anti-cannabis,” she said, and as a result, the idea was dropped. Weekes also said she thinks the strategy now is to legalize medicinal cannabis first. Then, “decriminalization for recreational use will come at a later date, when the regime for medicinal cannabis is proven successful.”
Criminalization is a major sticking point for many Barbadians. Activists say proposals for decriminalization must form part of any plans to introduce a medical cannabis industry. In a statement sent to Cannabis Wire, the Ichirouganaim Council for the Advancement of Rastafari said that while the Council acknowledges the attempts made to grant the right to sacramental use of cannabis, it can’t rationally support a legislative framework that would require its members to register their religion (a provision required of no other group in the society) and one that would continue to criminalize other members of the population.
“This is most offensive and disrespectful to ICAR and indeed all Rastafari, as no other organization is proscribed in the observance of its faith,” the Council statement said.
The position of the Council is shared by Paul ‘Ras Simba’ Rock, president of the African Heritage Foundation, who told Cannabis Wire that the group is prepared to challenge the legislation in court.
The limitations in the scope of the proposed reforms could impact the cannabis industry, according to local and regional experts. Jeremy Stephen, a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the West Indies’ Cave Hill Campus, told Cannabis Wire that the economic model he previously produced to show what taxes the country could reap from a cannabis industry “assumed the government would have allowed medicinal and recreational uses” when he calculated revenue of between USD $13,372,625 to USD $66,863,128 from consumption taxes, import duties, and the issuing of licenses. These figures may well change in the short term, according to Stephen, since with the current laws still in place that criminalize cannabis, the black market trade would continue.