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1st National Bank’s eighth Stanley French Educational Forum on Saturday, October 13, offered an insight into the legal realities about to hit the Caribbean like a tsunami of bad news when Canada and other jurisdictions legalise marijuana.
The problem is that in the local legalisation debate, it no longer matters whether you support one side or the other. The impact on the Saint Lucian economy could be be devastating unless the island’s administration move swiftly towards legal reform.
Starting on October 17 – when their country legalised recreational cannabis’ – Canadian companies who engage in business connected with the marijuana industry will still be considered criminal in Saint Lucia, due to the existing ‘Proceeds of Crime Act’ which defines revenue from drug-related activities as illegal.
Put simply: The fact that in Saint Lucia we are not legalising cannabis means that some of the island’s long term international business partners like Air Canada have just become criminals here in Belle Helen, categorised in the same bracket as drug traffickers and street pushers.
For the risk and compliance department, the usual de-risking sword of Damocles also became more complicated on Wednesday, as Bank Of Montreal Positioned itself as “bank of choice” for the cannabis industry in Canada.
BOM – as 1st National’s Canadian correspondent bank is known – currently has the power to de-risk a Caribbean bank under mere suspicion that they hold an account for an illicit operation. Correspondent banks are basically the reason for the seemingly endless avalanche of paperwork required to do most transactions these days, and they can wipe out a small, indigenous bank with the swipe of a pen.
But according to Bloomberg.com (May 14, 2018): “Bank of Montreal is emerging as the most aggressive of Canada’s big banks in the cannabis industry after landing a mandate to advise on the largest takeover in the sector.” So now, as we say here: “Who’s guarding the guard?”
How does a small, indigenous Caribbean bank navigate an international regulatory paradigm shift of this size and complexity, while adhering to a law that says “your potential CA$5 billion medical and recreational marijuana industry is illegal and therefore proceeds derived from weed-businesses and individuals are not welcome in Saint Lucia?”
How indeed, when Air Canada is preparing to allow free movement of personal recreational cannabis between the Canadian states? In a good will gesture for the past year, prescribed medical marijuana carried by internal airline passengers has been ‘overlooked’, so chances are the theoretical scenario around “proceeds of crime” has already become reality of legalisation.
How do Saint Lucian Customs and Immigration Departments plan to turn away Canadian tourists whose incomes are derived from owning cannabis dispensaries, growing facilities, laboratories, edibles factories and marketing companies? Or those travelling from Jamaica, Antigua, soon-to-be St. Vincent and so the list goes on.
Is a future Stephen, Damian, Ziggy, Rohan and/or other Marley concert at Pigeon Island now placed in jeopardy due to the family’s associations with Marley Natural in Jamaica and across north America?
Under the current Saint Lucian law they are already considered persona non grata for a lengthy tariff of ganja-related revenue streams. Our other OECS neighbours will follow Antigua into that twilight zone of illegitimacy on our shores as they choose to decriminalise.
And what of the young Saint Lucians who travel north to work on Canada’s farms during the lucrative summer months on programmes secured and facilitated by government organisations? With such high unemployment on the island, we cannot afford to stymie their ability to travel, learn and earn.
For the foreseeable future, you better believe there will be plenty of well-paying jobs harvesting the world’s most profitable cash crop in the first G7 country to legalise cannabis.
But Saint Lucians beware: Send that money home or try to return with your “ill-gotten gains” and you’ll be a criminal with a record.
Realising that the economic rewards for maintaining the legal status quo around cannabis are simply catastrophic, Saint Lucia’s only indigenous bank decided to bring the contentious topic to directors, shareholders and members of the public, complete with facts and figures that underlined the dilemma facing the region’s banking industry at this time.
Dissecting legal terminology and presenting a detailed picture of the catastrophe facing institutions and commercial banking mechanisms, 1st National’s Managing Director, Mr. Johnathan Johannes, and his team educated a packed room about the imminent threats faced by the Caribbean as it steers through the evolving international relations connected with liberalising cannabis and other drug laws.
“These are the real discussions we have in my office after hours. Inevitably they end up with raised voices and differing opinions,” explained Johannes. “We are not in the debate as to whether Saint Lucia should legalise marijuana or not. Our objective with this educational forum is to offer facts without the emotion in order to illustrate how potentially serious these issues will be if not addressed.”
Executive Manager of Risk, Compliance, Recoveries & Securities, Mrs. Clarette Auguste-Taylor and her colleague, Corporate Secretary & Legal Office, Mr. Henri-Jacques Mangal, were at the table to hold their own in terms of what Saint Lucia has on its statute books and to paraphrase their position, “the law is the law.”
According to 1st National’s legal and compliance professionals, the framework of laws laid out in the Proceeds Of Crime Act must be adhered to by “the bank” – and by themselves personally – or risk hefty fines and prison.
The message was clear to everyone listening. With Canada’s historic lifting of marijuana prohibition, something must be done with our local laws before Saint Lucia isolates itself from a large number of Canadians and their CA$ revenue, by telling them just what criminals they are.
The Proceeds of Crime Act can be found here: http://www.easterncaribbeanlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Proceeds-of-Crime-Act-Cap.3.04.pdf