Cannabis Decriminalization & Legalization in Saint Lucia
Cannabis decriminalization and legislation has been a hot topic for many years in the Caribbean including Saint Lucia. The current administration has promised to ‘propose’ legislation for the 2020/21 financial year — as there is potential that cannabis businesses will create employment, generate revenue and boost the economy’s GDP. The WHO and Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) recommended that marijuana no longer be classified as a dangerous drug.
In a dramatic turn of recent events, Saint Lucia’s cannabis movement leader Andre Pancho Decaires has indicated that he has been duped by the unfulfilled cannabis promises of this current administration. In the following sections, a recent study published by the Cato Institute on the effect of marijuana legislation in the United States will be reviewed. In addition, the findings from the Saint Lucian cannabis commission report will be presented.
Misinformation from Both Sides
Cannabis legalization advocates suggest that legalization reduces crime, raises tax revenue, lowers criminal justice expenditures, improves public health, increases traffic safety, and stimulates the economy. While cannabis legislation critics argue that legalization spurs harmful marijuana and other drug or alcohol use, increases crime, diminishes traffic safety, harms public health, and lowers teen educational achievements.
Evidence from the numerous US states that have legalized marijuana has found that the effects are minor than expected and the persons who are imprisoned for marijuana infractions are the ones who have paid the greatest price. These persons continue to have their lives’ forever damaged for a “crime” that is likely to be considered “not a crime” soon. There are currently about 40 persons at Bordelais Correctional Facility whom are either on remand or serving sentences related to the Cannabis infractions. What provisions will we have in place to assist these persons who have faced the greatest penalties for something that may not be considered a “crime”?
Cannabis and Crime
Opponents of marijuana legalization believe marijuana-use can increase crime rates partly through the psychopharmacological effects on users. Whereas proponents of marijuana legalization argue that legalization reduces crime by diverting marijuana production and sale from underground markets to legal venues. Supporters of marijuana legalization also dispute the claim that marijuana increases neurological tendencies toward violence or aggression. Cato’s Institute recent data analyzing monthly violent crime rates in the marijuana-legalized states relative to the U.S. average shows that neither side is correct; overall violent crime has neither soared nor plummeted in the wake of marijuana legalization. Hence, despite this current administration presiding over dramatic homicide rate increases, data suggests that it is not expected that Cannabis legalization will contribute to more violent crimes in Saint Lucia.
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) Leading the Caribbean in the Cannabis Industry?
St. Vincent and the Grenadines have progressively moved ahead with marijuana decriminalization in December, 2018. “A southern Caribbean nation, comprising the main island, St. Vincent, and a chain of smaller islands, SVG is a member of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). The tiny islands are the first OECS members to decriminalize cannabis for medical purposes and scientific research. Fifteen nations in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) organization also place marijuana decriminalization high on its agenda. The tiny islands are the first OECS members to decriminalize cannabis for medical purposes and scientific research.” “SVG’s growing conditions are suited to producing the highest quality grade medicinal cannabis available on the global market.”
Cannabis Commission Report
The current administration hosted a consultation which run through August 1st to October 31st, 2019 and indicated that the final report would be made public by the government at a time to be determined. As the Saint Lucian diaspora await with bated breath, the current administration has yet to release this report to the public domain.
Some of the key highlights from the report include the following:
· Cannabis should be declassified as a “dangerous drug” or narcotic in all legislation and reclassified as a controlled substance.
· Create a Hemp industry (cannabis with low THC < 0.3%) that has the potential for building low carbon footprinted houses — reduce importation and use of cement products.
· Customs Law should be amended to make provision for the important and export of cannabis and cannabis products as appropriate.
· Small farmers and small businesspersons should be included in production and supply arrangements with appropriate controls limiting large enterprise and foreign exploitation.
· Retroactivity should be used as a tool to correct past injustices, such as expungement of criminal records.
· Restrictions that support no public smoking and vaping of cannabis in alignment with tobacco smoking and vaping restrictions be adopted.
The reports also analyzed various economic models and revenue impact for full legalization of Cannabis Production, Sale and Use within a Competitive Market Framework or with State Control. In both scenarios, the significant economic benefits were the following:
· 10% increase in size of economy with $80M in tax revenue to the government per year
· 2% reduction in unemployment rate and 2000+ new jobs in the Cannabis industry
· 7% increase in revenue
· $80 million reduction in fiscal deficit
· 300% increase in exports
However, these benefits will be dependent on whether Saint Lucia is a market leader or market follower in the Cannabis industry. The proposed model for the cannabis industry assumes that the major players in the industry will be small local farmers; unlike other industries that are completely dependent on foreign investment or foreigners. The Cannabis report indicates that the government could receive $80M per year from the new Cannabis industry and over 5 years that would be $400M. For comparison purposes, the Citizenship by Investment program (“bargain basement passport sales”) has generated $131M for the government after 5 years of operation. “According to Chairperson of the CBI Board Mr. Ryan Devaux, now in its fifth year of operation, the programme has raised $131,245,988.60.” Hence, the cannabis industry has the potential to generate more revenue than Saint Lucia’s CIP.
Is Cannabis the way forward for Economic Diversification?
Has the current administration been too heavily consumed with foreigner favored projects, that they have forgotten the potential revenue generating from the Cannabis Industry? Interestingly, there is strong potential for local Saint Lucian farmers and its diaspora to benefit from a Cannabis industry than from foreigner biased projects such as DSH, Cabot etc. Furthermore, considering that Saint Lucia is a Tourism dependent nation, and COVID-19 has ravaged such an industry, it is now up to progressive leaders to pave the way for other revenue generating sectors.
Perhaps, one way forward is to adopt a similar approach as our neighbor, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, that have already gone ahead with decriminalization and earned over $25M XCD in licensing finance in 2019 and in 2020. “Despite the challenges of the Pandemic, approved licensees invested over $10 million in 2020 to finance set-up and infrastructure developments, as well as cultivation activities. Investors have hired 80 staff to date, and provided steady income to over 150 traditional cultivators.” When will Saint Lucia follow Saint Vincent Cannabis Model?
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