National consultations on the cultivation of cannabis for domestic use and export are taking place in Saint Lucia, as the Caribbean country debates plans to diversify its agricultural industry. Saint Lucia is among an ever-shrinking group of countries in the Caribbean that have yet to enact cannabis reforms, either decriminalization or legalization for medical or adult use.
The consultations with stakeholders and the public come on the heels of a report shared last month with the country’s Cabinet of Ministers from the government-established Cannabis Commission, which explores “various models on the way forward” for cannabis reforms, including the introduction of adult-use provisions, according to Bradley Felix, the Minister for Commerce, Industry, Investment, Enterprise Development and Consumer Affairs.
“My colleagues have agreed that we are at a period where the approach must be different,” Felix told members of the House of Assembly on June 26, during the discussion of the country’s fiscal budget for 2020. “We have concluded that the criminalization of cannabis has been ineffective in reducing the use of cannabis,” he added, citing the significant economic and enforcement cost accrued annually.
Public comment during the consultation process, according to Felix, will influence the legislative drafting process. The panelists for this week’s consultation include Chairman of the Commission, Micheal Gordon, along with Stephen King, a health consultant working to formulate the reform policy. Since the Commission delivered its report, it has held four virtual consultations with various key stakeholder groups, including faith-based organizations, the National Youth Council, NGOs, and various government agencies.
The Commission’s report, titled “An Economic Analysis of the Regulation of the Cannabis Industry in Saint Lucia,” which has not yet been made public, comes just under a year after the government agreed to establish the Commission to review the impact of reforming the island’s current laws would have on its tourism-dependent economy. It puts everything, even adult-use cannabis legalization on the table, with an emphasis on domestic cultivation, along with incentive programs to pivot persons cultivating cannabis illicitly into the legal market.
The report, according to a statement shared with Cannabis Wire from the Office of the Prime Minister, provides “background and context, arguments against and for regulatory reform,” along with recommendations for “alternative regulatory models, economic assessment, cost-benefit analysis, and a macro-economic impact assessment” of legalization.
Under current law, Saint Lucia allows a judge to impose fines instead of imprisonment for cannabis-related crimes, but the existing fines, which can range up to $20,000 to avoid a five- to ten-year-year prison term, are prohibitively expensive, particularly for the persons of lower economic means who are frequently arrested.
If lawmakers take up the most extensive reforms presented in the analysis, Saint Lucia could join the Bahamas, Bermuda, and the US Virgin Islands as the only group of islands in the region to consider adult-use regulations. Other countries in the region, as Cannabis Wire has reported, have moved toward decriminalization and the legalization of medical cannabis. An effort to legalize cannabis for adult use failed to gain approval in the British Virgin Islands last week, and, as Cannabis Wire reported, only medical use moved forward.
The most recent polling conducted on the island by the Caribbean Development Research Services, also known as CADRES, suggests local legislators could see public support for reforms. Of the 1,000 persons interviewed by CADRES in Saint Lucia, 51% of the population support cannabis-related legislative reform with just 38% wishing to maintain the status quo. Peter Wickham, a regional political consultant and the director of CADRES, told Cannabis Wire that he believes “public opinion” is trending in this direction, in part due to the perceived economic incentives many people associate with the industry.
Reform advocates are hoping that widespread public support will lead to a “definitive change this year,” Andre de Caires, a member of Saint Lucia’s Cannabis Commission, told Cannabis Wire.
“Many of us feel confident after the meeting that the government will strongly consider the report,” said de Caires, who is also the Chairman of the Cannabis Movement, a group of local cannabis activists.
Stakeholder groups—including the Cannabis Movement, the Iyanola Council for the Advancement of Rastafari, the National Youth Council, the Saint Lucia Christian Council, and the Saint Lucia Industrial and Small Business Association—were represented on the country’s Cannabis Commission and contributed to the report.
Support also extends to members of the country’s business community and its national investment promotion agency, Invest Saint Lucia. The Agency’s CEO, Roderick Cherry, told local journalists last year that “a legalized, well-regulated and well-run cannabis industry” will have a significant economic impact on Saint Lucia, should such an industry be created.
During the budget debate in June, the country’s opposition leader, Philip Pierre, also reiterated his support in a national address, saying: “We believe that it is time for a conclusion and closure on this issue while ensuring that the people who suffered prosecution — Rastafarians — benefit from any decision on cannabis use. This is not a time for politics but reconciliation, good sense and protection of health and livelihoods.”
Pierre, also called for the agricultural sector to be involved in the business of cannabis production for economic and medical reasons, along with the “expungement of records for cannabis-related criminal activity for small quantities of cannabis.”
The Prime Minister, Allen Chastanet, has also weighed in on the “discussion taking place” on the island recently. At the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank Monetary Council in February, he highlighted the need to provide opportunities to the country’s citizens, with an eye toward domestic cultivation and export.
“Are we going to allow foreign investors to come in where our farmers are going to be used as workers, or are we going to be in the production of the product ourselves,” he asked.
“When it comes to cannabis,” Chastanet has said the government is seeking to focus on value-added and pharmaceutical products as opposed to simply producing inputs. Those products he explained will allow for “greater economic opportunity” for the island.