Saint Vincent and the Grenadines has started its long-awaited cannabis cultivation amnesty program, a major move to pivot cultivators of illicit cannabis into the legal industry.
The amnesty program, which came into effect March 3, will allow individuals, who would otherwise face convictions for the illegal cultivation of cannabis under current law, to “surrender their crop or harvest upon the issuance of a traditional cultivation license.”
The bill that created the program, known as the Cannabis Cultivation (Amnesty) Bill, was passed by the House of Assembly in December 2018, as part of a package of legislation that legalized medical cannabis, and the program’s launch was announced by Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves on March 2. As written, the law must be reauthorized by the House of Assembly after one year.
The amnesty arrives at the same time as another major cannabis reform in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines—a decision by the government to grant permission for licensed cultivators to open bank accounts with the majority state-owned Bank of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. (Cultivators are named specifically because much of the other activity, from processing to distribution, will be overseen by the government.)
The bank accounts will allow holders to directly accept investments from, and complete financial transactions with, legal entities from countries with established cannabis industries, Jerrol Thompson, Chief Executive Officer of the country’s Medicinal Cannabis Authority, told licensees in February.
“Banking is an important pillar of building a sustainable industry,” Thompson said at the licensees’ gathering. “We are the only Caribbean island that has been able to establish a firm basis in terms of banking, which would allow licensees to move money and do business legitimately, between Canada, Europe, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.”
However, United States banking regulations still loom large for the nation: Because cannabis is federally illegal in the US, it is risky for financial institutions in other countries to work with cannabis companies for fear of jeopardizing banking relationships in the United States.
Still, Thompson said, the Bank of Saint Vincent’s willingness to absorb the risks is a significant step for the regional cannabis industry where many islands across the Caribbean are looking to cash in on global developments in the industry.
The banking decision is part of a policy proposal laid out by Camillo Gonsalves, the country’s Minister of Finance, in February. Gonsalves also announced that Saint Vincent, would pivot toward the export of medical cannabis products by year’s end. The amnesty plan plays a role here: Saint Vincent is a major source of illegal cannabis production in the Caribbean, second per capita only to Jamaica. Allowing for the onboarding of illegal cannabis farmers, which is similar to a plan launched in Jamaica in January, would allow cannabis to more quickly replace falling revenue from other agricultural exports.
Yet another development is in the works that could boost the cannabis industry not only in Saint Vincent, but across the Caribbean. At the aforementioned licensees’ gathering, Thompson referenced a forthcoming report by the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, which was presented at its Monetary Council in February, titled: The Medicinal Cannabis Revolution: Challenges in Banking the Budding Industry in the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union. The report, which explores potential opportunities for the development of the region’s medical cannabis industry, would be the first detailed study of the challenges faced by the financial sector, particularly as it relates to correspondent banking relations. It could inform the approach to cannabis taken by the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union, the monetary authority that sets regulations for Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, all of whom are either considering or have enacted cannabis reforms.
“The fact that this is now a billion-dollar industry, we recognize the opportunities there, and our suggestions go along the line of a strong supervisory framework,” ECCB Governor Timothy Antoine said in Saint Kitts and Nevis during a presentation of the report last month.
“We want to be proactive to the extent that we can be and just signal what the possibilities are, while also highlighting the risk and discussing how we can manage those risks going forward as a currency union.”