On Friday, Trinidad and Tobago’s House of Representatives unanimously passed the Cannabis Control Bill, which would legalize and regulate cannabis for medical and religious purposes. The legislation now heads to the Senate.
The bill was first introduced in October 2020 by Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi, and immediately referred to a joint select committee. That committee’s report was expected by December 2020, but wasn’t released until June of 2021, after which there was no movement until late last month.
“What this committee’s report demonstrates is: money can grow on trees,” said Al-Rawi, also the Minister of Local Government and Rural Affairs, before the chamber took up the bill on Friday. “And that that money growing on trees has an economic potential which must be balanced against the risks to society.”
Medical cannabis has been a topic of debate among Trinidad’s lawmakers since 2019, when lawmakers advanced decriminalization legislation. In compiling its report, the committee hosted six public consultations on cannabis, during which more than 1,000 residents and stakeholders contributed policy considerations.
When the House held its first debate on the committee report, on April 20, Al-Rawi, who also chaired the committee, said the creation of the Cannabis Control Authority as a regulatory body was “no small move.” Al-Rawi added that members of the committee looked to Canada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda, and Jamaica for “examples.”
“Trinidad and Tobago has the advantage of a very advanced intellectual property system where geo-patenting, where patenting of the DNA of the type of cannabis that we grow is an option,” Al-Rawi said.
Under the bill, eight types of medical cannabis licenses would be created, including cultivators, processors, retailers, importers, exporters, and transporters. Another five would be created for religious purposes.
Mayaro MP Rushton Paray criticized how “late” Trinidad and Tobago is when it comes to cannabis, noting that now, the country is “playing catch-up with the rest of the world in facilitating the establishment of a structured cannabis industry.”
Paray also touched on equity concerns and big international cannabis players, adding that “any red tape would only set back Trinidad and Tobago’s involvement in this mushrooming industry.’”
The country already decriminalized cannabis, in part because people of color were bearing a disproportionate burden, which Al-Rawi drew attention to by noting a “very interesting statistic.”
“We did a racial disaggregation to demonstrate that it was in our East Indian and African distributions we found that we were significantly in disproportion. And when we did a socio-economic disaggregation we effectively saw that our poorest and most disenfranchised males were being incarcerated,” Al-Rawi said on April 20.
In closing his comments ahead of the adoption of the report and the vote to pass the bill on April 29, Al-Rawi pointed to economic opportunities, including for those most impacted by criminalization.
“To all young entrepreneurs out there: get ready,” he said. “Get ready and set for a diversified economy which includes cannabis as an option under strict regulation.”