CONSIDERING THE CANNABIS QUESTION IN SAINT LUCIA
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?