CON­SID­ER­ING THE CANNABIS QUES­TION IN SAINT LU­CIA

The Star (St. Lucia) - Business Week - - NEWS - BY ED KENNEDY, STAR BUSI­NESS­WEEK COR­RE­SPON­DENT

Re­cent times have seen the push to change ex­ist­ing laws sur­round­ing cannabis im­pact in many ju­ris­dic­tions lo­cally and glob­ally. Na­tions like Uruguay and Canada have fully le­galised recre­ational cannabis. This change has brought pot deal­ers ‘out of the shad­ows’, along­side giv­ing per­mis­sion for a thriv­ing com­mer­cial cannabis in­dus­try to grow.

Be­yond these two na­tions, many other ter­ri­to­ries around the world like the US states of Colorado, Michi­gan and Wash­ing­ton have looked to le­galise cannabis, while oth­ers have ab­stained from full le­gal­i­sa­tion but per­mit­ted its sale for med­i­cal treat­ment. These changes all show a very real and sub­stan­tial mo­men­tum sur­round­ing cannabis le­gal­i­sa­tion.

It’s one that, for bet­ter or worse, no­body in the busi­ness com­mu­nity could fairly ig­nore. What­ever your personal view on cannabis le­gal­i­sa­tion, the ben­e­fits of its le­gal­i­sa­tion and greater adop­tion are clear. Let’s look now at this new era for cannabis, and what it may mean for busi­ness in Saint Lu­cia and the Caribbean.

THE LAW OF THE LAND

Un­ques­tion­ably, there have long been grow­ing voices in the law en­force­ment and le­gal com­mu­ni­ties around the world that have pushed for a change to­wards the ex­ist­ing law sur­round­ing cannabis use. By no means is that by de­fault ad­vo­cat­ing for full le­gal­i­sa­tion of the sub­stance, but in­stead the push for a more le­nient ap­proach to those caught with a small non-com­mer­cial amount.

This view­point has typ­i­cally been ad­vanced for a num­ber of rea­sons: to free up po­lice re­sources to at­tend to more se­ri­ous crimes; so cit­i­zens can avoid ob­tain­ing a per­ma­nent crim­i­nal record for a mi­nor drug of­fence.

Also, the wide­spread use - de­spite it hav­ing been il­le­gal - of cannabis, along­side recog­ni­tion of its harm­ful ef­fects (such as they ex­ist), are quite com­pa­ra­ble to le­gal sub­stances like al­co­hol. This means the mo­men­tum be­hind on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion and pros­e­cu­tion of of­fend­ers has be­come more and more lim­ited as time has gone on.

“When you look at hemp agri­cul­ture, it’s very ‘sexy’ to the mar­ket com­pared to ba­nanas or other crops. And re­ally, our food im­port bill is in the hun­dred of mil­lions of dol­lars an­nu­ally. If we looked to more hemp agri­cul­ture, we could see a newer and more vi­brant agri­cul­tural sec­tor emerge that helps bal­ance the scales”

MOD­ER­A­TION AND OP­POR­TU­NITY: THE PRO-CANNABIS CASE

For Ran­dall Bain, the found­ing mem­ber of the Cannabis Move­ment of Saint Lu­cia, a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to cannabis is all about tak­ing away the stigma and recog­nis­ing the ben­e­fits that cannabis of­fers.

“To me, when you limit or pro­hibit ac­cess to any­thing, it adds a ‘for­bid­den fruit’ el­e­ment. This is com­monly seen with young peo­ple,” says Bain.

“When I first went to school in Canada at 17, the drink­ing age was 19. As a re­sult I saw my class­mates on week­ends got re­ally drunk. But my back­ground saw al­co­hol treated sen­si­bly and so I wasn’t tempted to drink to ex­cess. It’s the same with cannabis: sen­si­ble pol­icy en­cour­ages mod­er­ate use.”

For Bain, the real frus­tra­tion in the push for le­gal­i­sa­tion lo­cally is the fact the pos­i­tives about cannabis are of­ten over­looked in the broader de­bate.

“I’d re­ally like peo­ple to un­der­stand our per­spec­tive here on this. The iso­lated CBD mol­e­cule has no psy­choac­tive prop­er­ties and is cu­ra­tive — able to treat pain as­so­ci­ated with many con­di­tions as an anti-in­flam­ma­tory. In fact the ben­e­fits are quite end­less”, says Bain.

While he recog­nises that not ev­ery­one lo­cally shares his view, he holds there’s com­mon ground on which peo­ple from all per­spec­tives could iden­tify the pos­i­tives for lo­cal busi­ness.

“When you look at hemp agri­cul­ture, it’s very ‘sexy’ to the mar­ket com­pared to ba­nanas or other crops. And re­ally, our food im­port bill is in the hun­dred of mil­lions of dol­lars an­nu­ally. If we looked to more hemp agri­cul­ture, we could see a newer and more vi­brant agri­cul­tural sec­tor emerge that helps bal­ance the scales.”

LIGHT­ING UP TOURISM

As well as free­ing up le­gal re­sources, there is the po­ten­tial for cannabis le­gal­i­sa­tion to drive new growth in tourism. Fol­low­ing le­gal­i­sa­tion of cannabis in Colorado dur­ing 2014, in the fol­low­ing year the US state saw 4 per cent of vis­i­tors cite the avail­abil­ity of cannabis as the rea­son they came to visit the state. Fur­ther­more, 23 per cent of tourists said (if not the sole rea­son) its avail­abil­ity was hugely in­flu­en­tial in their de­ci­sion to visit the state.

Along­side op­por­tu­nity there’s a ques­tion of prag­ma­tism here for Saint Lu­cia. Cannabis tourism will con­tinue to grow. To what ex­tent it re­mains size­able — es­pe­cially if more and more ter­ri­to­ries le­galise it — re­mains un­clear. But there’s an emerg­ing prob­lem of dealing with tourists who may bring cannabis from their na­tive na­tion to these shores.

Cer­tainly ev­ery na­tion has a right to en­force its own laws at the bor­der, but as the re­gional na­tions of Jamaica, An­tigua and Bar­buda, and the Cay­man Is­lands have al­ready un­der­gone de­crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion of

cannabis, there ap­pears to be a fork in the road up ahead for many lo­cal na­tions, one where re­tain­ing the same lure for tourists may re­quire a new view on cannabis.

WHERE THERE’S SMOKE THERE’S FIRE

While there may be many pos­i­tives to cannabis, the draw­backs of the pro-cannabis ar­gu­ment can’t be over­looked. Ad­vo­cates for cannabis of­ten point out the high num­ber of al­co­hol-re­lated is­sues in so­ci­ety. Crit­ics re­ply that, even if it is uni­ver­sally agreed that al­co­hol is a worse is­sue than cannabis, sim­ply adding cannabis to the list of per­mit­ted sub­stances is not jus­ti­fied on this ba­sis; that such a the­ory doesn’t solve any­thing but just risks mak­ing the prob­lem worse.

And while it’s true that the sky did not fall in on places like Den­ver fol­low­ing the change to their laws, there has been ev­i­dence put for­ward to sug­gest so­cial side ef­fects, in­clud­ing a higher num­ber of road ac­ci­dents. Such an even­tu­al­ity may not be sur­pris­ing, but it does con­firm that ad­vo­cates who sug­gests there are zero is­sues with a change, are al­most as bad as those who sug­gest that Ar­maged­don will oc­cur if a change is made.

A BURN­ING IS­SUE

The de­bate sur­round­ing cannabis le­gal­i­sa­tion will al­ways be con­tro­ver­sial; in­formed not only by le­gal and med­i­cal per­spec­tives but also moral ones. Mo­rals may be a sub­jec­tive but they un­der­write a so­ci­ety’s at­ti­tude to fair­ness, com­pas­sion, and the no­tion of liv­ing a ‘good life’. Cannabis’ ca­pac­ity to be a hal­lu­cino­gen in a way that al­co­hol or caf­feine (the other com­monly le­galised recre­ational sub­stances) are not, un­set­tles the moral­ity of many.

It’s for oth­ers to have this de­bate but, given the changes else­where, it may soon be nec­es­sary to have it. Sug­gest­ing that this would lead to defini­tive change would be pre­sump­tive. After all, just as many ter­ri­to­ries have ul­ti­mately le­galised cannabis, so too have oth­ers de­ci­sively re­jected it, seem­ingly put­ting the use of its le­gal­ity to bed for an­other gen­er­a­tion.

And if not for recre­ational use, cannabis for med­i­cal use is an im­por­tant is­sue to con­sider. Some­one cyn­i­cal may ques­tion what “med­i­cal” ap­pli­ca­tions cannabis has, but when con­fronted with how it can help treat con­di­tions like epilepsy and dras­ti­cally im­prove the qual­ity of life, it would surely be crim­i­nal to over­look any le­gal re­view of its sta­tus.

Ran­dall Bain, found­ing mem­ber of the Cannabis Move­ment of Saint Lu­cia

De­spite the Cannabis Move­ment’s pro­longed pub­lic aware­ness cam­paign, Saint Lu­cia still ap­pears to be one of the least pro­gres­sive is­lands in the Caribbean as it re­lates to cap­tur­ing the so­cio-eco­nomic ben­e­fits of the plant. Jamaica, St. Vin­cent and the Gre­nadines, the US Vir­gin Is­lands, An­tigua and Bar­buda, the Cay­man Is­lands and Belize have all made steps in re­lax­ing their pro­hi­bi­tion laws. Will Saint Lu­cia be the last domino to fall?

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