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From the mid 70s, the strategic cooperation on ‘the war on drugs’ between western civilization, Latin America and the Caribbean cast a long shadow over the politics, money, social acceptance and change dynamics of cannabis.
Cannabis, previously unacceptable, is now mainstream and rewarding, changing the structures and systems that shape lives, neighbourhoods, and countries in a systematic way.
And so, radical transformation of governments, investments and strategies are ongoing.
The 420 Industry
Uruguay became the world’s first country to legalize cannabis last summer.
In January, the Bank of Montreal became the first major bank in Canada to lead an equity financing deal with a legal cannabis producer.
On October 17, 2018, Canada legalized the recreational use of cannabis that set in motion two major developments.
First, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau kept a campaign promise of the 2015 election, with less than a year away from the next poll, and, secondly, placed the country at a strategic social and economic advantage – placing Canada apart from the world.
Remarkably, both countries have achieved what is possible in a regulatory framework, in contrast to the prohibition of cannabis.
Jamaica has completed its first shipment of medical marijuana extract oil to Canada. The shipment marks the first step in positioning Jamaica as the medical marijuana hub for the world.
“With this announcement and the commitment of the government of Jamaica as well as several other key programmes to be announced shortly, Jamaica is rapidly moving to take its place in the fast growing medical marijuana industry globally.”
Debating what to do about cannabis in the Caribbean region is an extraordinary exercise of what can be termed an “administrative error”.
Meanwhile, many users, former law enforcement offices, politicians and financial service providers among others are backpedalling and profiting from legal cannabis.
The impact of the cannabis trade in the Caribbean region and in particular Saint Lucia is an open secret. A thriving black market industry, in full view.
Nevertheless, Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member states, Grenada, Antigua and Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica have all gone different ways on cannabis.
In that sense, the economic impact, legalization and industrialization of cannabis in Saint Lucia require a robust policy shift formally to apologise and, further, offer restitution to those who were subject to systemic imprisonment, human rights violations and long term deprivation.
For example, September 7, 1977, the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force (RSLPF) raid on the Rastafarian community at Mount Gimie.
In contrast, those who upheld that system were rewarded, while others are either officials of the political and economic elite, operating as “business executives” and a de facto branch of the administration and government operations.
Together, their money and power forge the basis for the kleptocracy ushered in to Saint Lucia on an imaginable level.
The New 420 Reality
Cannabis has gone mainstream and the dynamics of economic empowerment have fine-tuned that reality.
Signature factors and radical realignment comes to mind, with former speaker of the US House of Representatives John Boehner and former Massachusetts governor William Weld having joined the advisory board of Acreage Holdings, a New York company that cultivates, processes and dispenses cannabis.
This happened after Boehner said nine years earlier that he was “unalterably opposed” to legalization.
“Over the last 10 or 15 years, the American people’s attitudes have changed dramatically. I find myself in that same position,” he said.
With Canada legalizing cannabis, former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney is joining the board of Acreage Holdings, currently licensed in 14 states.
Mulroney says he is pleased that Canada has taken a leadership role in the field in North America, adding that he’s “encouraged about the prospects of what the end of prohibition” will mean for the country.
“I think cannabis, and medical cannabis in particular, will do a lot of good for a lot of people. It’s important that Canadians who need it will now have it in a legal fashion.
“I’ve learned that these social matters come along and in the fullness of time they stretch their wings across the planet. What was unthinkable 30 years ago when I was prime minister is now widely accepted in countries around the globe. That’s the way societies evolve,” Mulroney said.
Meanwhile, Mulroney’s daughter, the attorney general of Ontario, Caroline Mulroney, has been overseeing the legalization of cannabis.
Besides that, three companies are said to be heading to the Canadian stock exchange (CSE) the preferred listing spot for cannabis companies with US operations that count Boehner and Mulroney as advisors – Acreage Holdings, Curaleaf Inc., and Cresco Labs LLC – since New York exchanges and the Toronto Stock Exchange don’t allow listings by companies that are violating federal law in the jurisdiction where they operate.
The 758 Launderette Economy
Andre Pancho de Caires and the Saint Lucia Cannabis Movement have expressed repeated dissatisfaction with successive administrations amid the organisation’s proposals regarding cannabis in Saint Lucia.
Nonetheless, in full view of the facts, social and international change dynamics, there are still mixed signals and indecision. Repeatedly, the politics of empty promises and old fashioned gangster capitalism are on display.
With every deferment, cronies are allowed to make millions, drug trafficking and the black market operate freely, while extortion and elaborate financial schemes advance strategic political and economic goals.
All of which leads to a worsening economy and greater inequality.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said its “Regional Economic Outlook for the Western Hemisphere” has decreased its growth forecasts for Latin America and the Caribbean to 1.2 percent in 2018 and 2.2 percent in 2019, from the May 2018 forecasts of 2.0 percent and 2.8 percent, respectively.
“Despite the increased downside risks, many countries in the region should continue to focus on much-needed structural reforms that would boost productive capacity and help build strong, durable, and inclusive growth over the medium term,” the IMF continued.
According to Saint Lucia opposition leader, Philip J Pierre, “A Labour Party government will as a first step immediately bring legislation to Parliament to expunge the criminal records of any one previously convicted for the use of small quantities of cannabis.
“We will enter discussion with informed parties on the use of ganja for medicinal use and its potential as an economic crop for export.
“We will also enter dialogue with health and legal partners on the legalization of the herb. And will take a definitive approach to the subject and will within a maximum of one year make the necessary legislative changes consistent with best advice from the discussions and consultations I referred to.”
The 758/420 Unknown
Saint Lucia’s position towards cannabis, safe and legal choices, and even the hemp industry, is full of unknowns. Many questions arise:
• Are people and communities psychologically ready for legalisation?
• What is the economic impact of the profits of legal cannabis producers and tax revenues?
• What is the social impact and economic engagement on young people?
• What is the expected impact on the health of Saint Lucians and health care institutions?
• Is there a “strong regulatory framework” in place for the legal sale of cannabis?
• Are the wheels of justice [the current legal and judicial regime] in place for the protection of society?
Recently, former police commissioner, Cuthbert Phillips expressed the view that the criminal records of persons convicted for marijuana offences should be expunged.
“When you look at it, it is costing us quite a bit of money,” adding, “you decriminalise it and allow the guys to be released.”
National Security Minister Hermangild Francis said [May 2018]: “I am not going to look at decriminalization or legalization, but I am looking at the legislation in such a way that you can make it a little less onerous on the young people of this country. So we have alternative sentencing: you are found with a certain quantity, where is for recreational, medicinal, medical, medicine and so on, then you can have that. So we take the example of Antigua, and I think that’s the way to go.”
In contrast, Canada is taking steps to grant pardons to Canadians with past criminal convictions for simple possession of pot under 30 grams.
Former Toronto police Chief Bill Blair, currently minister of border security and organized crime reduction, said: “We understand the impact that those criminal records have had on people. At that point in time, we’ll have the opportunity to deal with those records in an appropriate way.”
While foreign companies are pursuing Saint Lucian farms and licences for commercial cannabis and hemp, what prevents Saint Lucians to form cannabis cooperatives under licence from government and engage persons previously convicted? The Rastafarian communities and those active in the black market I am certain know a thing or two, not commonly known.
Moving towards legalization and a “strict regulatory model” while expanding the space, primarily with local entrepreneurs, experts argue that if cops and former politicians can cash in on legal cannabis, those with pot convictions should have the opportunity to enter the legal market.
Most importantly, the mistakes of the banana industry ought not to be repeated. We ought not to be regarded as simply producers and labourers but partners and owners; active in financing, marketing and distribution, operational [infrastructural requirements], merchandizing, research and development, with expert assistance.
There can be no excuse for complacency, “administrative errors” or waiting for international recognition from foreign powers. The happiness and economic prosperity of Saint Lucians is paramount and ought not to be unduly restricted and/or obstructed.
Melanius Alphonse is a management and development consultant, a long-standing senior correspondent and a contributing columnist to Caribbean News Now. His areas of focus include political, economic and global security developments, and on the latest news and opinion. His philanthropic interests include advocating for community development, social justice, economic freedom and equality. He contributes to special programming on Radio Free Iyanola, RFI 102.1FM and News Now Global analysis. He can be reached at [email protected]
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