The SVG Parliament met yesterday (September 6) for the first reading of three pieces of legislation directed towards efforts being made to establish a medical marijuana industry in the country.

Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Saboto Caesar, presented The Medicinal Cannabis Industry Bill, The Cannabis Cultivation (Amnesty) Bill, and The Permitted Use of Cannabis for Religious Purpose Bill and asked that they be sent to a select committee.

Saboto Caeser stated that, “The Medicinal Cannabis Industry Bill will regulate the supply and use of cannabis for medicinal purposes. “That is, for the treatment of persons with qualifying medical conditions, to provide for the establishment of the Medicinal Cannabis Authority and the Medicinal Cannabis Advisory Council and for matters and purposes incidental thereto.”

He went on to explain, “The Cannabis Cultivation (Amnesty) Bill will provide for the grant of an amnesty for the period commencing Aug. 1, 2018 and ending July 31, 2019 or such further period as the House of Assembly may determine, by resolution, to persons engaged in the cultivation of cannabis contrary to Section 8 of the Drug Prevention of Misuse Act and any other relevant enactment, who may otherwise be liable to criminal prosecution for certain criminal offences and other proceeding under that act or any other relevant enactment in force.”

Caesar said the bill relates to an amnesty related to the possession and cultivation of cannabis and is designed to grant a reprieve to people who have illegally cultivated cannabis on or before the amnesty period, by providing such persons with an opportunity to surrender their crop or harvest upon the issuance of a traditional cultivation licence.

The minister then continued, the Permitted Use of Cannabis for Religious Purpose Bill provides for the decriminalization of the use of cannabis as sacrament in adherence to a religious practice by such religious bodies as may be prescribed by order of the minister including but not limited to the Rastafarian faith at their place of worship and at an event declared by order of the minister to be an exempt event for the purposes of this act and for matters and purposes incidental thereto.

In addition to Caesar, the following government lawmakers will sit on the select committee: Prime Minster and Minister of National Security and Legal Affairs, Ralph Gonsalves, Member for North Windward, Montgomery Daniel, Member for East St. George, Camillo Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Minister of Education, National Reconciliation and Ecclesiastical Affairs, Jimmy Prince, Minister of Health, Wellness and the Environment, Sen. Luke Browne, Sen. Carlos James, and Attorney General Jaundy Martin.

The opposition members are Opposition Leader Godwin Friday, MP for North Leeward and opposition spokesman on agriculture, Roland “Patel” Matthews, South Leeward MP, Nigel “Nature’ Stephenson, Central Kingstown MP, St. Clair Leacock, and Sen. Kay Bacchus-Baptiste. The opposition has throughout this year indicated that any medical marijuana industry established in St. Vincent and the Grenadines should be designed in such a way that it benefits citizens. Matthews has called for the decriminalization of possession of small quantities of marijuana for recreational use. The government has decided it is not prepared to go in that direction yet.