While I would not advocate the recreational use of marijuana, I do believe that we are being deprived of the industrial production of hemp and medicinal marijuana. If one wants a high, they should look within themselves, the energy within that comes from being a healthy human, but I am not one of those advocating getting high on marijuana or any kind of drug.” Those were the words of Dr Gilbertha St Rose, Herbalist and medical practitioner speaking last Friday as assistant chair of the Cannabis Movement of Saint Lucia. The movement, after more than a decade of trying, is once again attempting to educate and reeducate the public about the industrial use of hemp and the fact that while it is from the same marijuana family of plants does not contain the addictive chemical said to be in marijuana.
“The Industrial Hemp Initiative has been put forward for fourteen years now and there is absolutely no reason why it shouldn’t be allowed to go forward based on all the benefits that will be derived from this industrial hemp,” St Rose says. “At the moment we are importing things like hemp seeds, hemp seed oil, all these things can be done right here,” she added alluding to the health benefits of the products. “But I think at this point we need to back-track a bit. When people hear hemp, when people hear ganja, cannabis, they just start thinking of somebody sitting by the side of the road smoking pot and being high. But it is very, very important to differentiate between the hemp and the cannabis,” St Rose states. She then went on to explain that cannabis is the broad name covering hemp and marijuana. However while marijuana itself is said to contain high levels of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) the psychoactive compound, hemp is said to have less than 0.02 percent of THC. “The THC is really the big thing which raises concerns about people getting high, but hemp has a very low concentration an insignificant amount in fact,” St Rose declared.
For the well-known herbal doctor, industrial hemp is not just about the medicinal value and benefits, but the agricultural products and bi-products as well including clothes, shoes and building material.
“Where health is concerned the hemp seed is the most complete form of protein rich in essential fatty acids, rich in omega fatty acids and highly nutritional, excellent for humans. It can also be used as chicken feed and from the hemp can be derived soap, moisturizers, shampoos, paper, furniture and even bio fuel,” she added. “So if we just look at industrial hemp there is absolutely no reason why it shouldn’t be legalized yesterday, and getting our youth and other people employed and get products out there to put on the market.”
Wearing a pale green shirt made out of hemp, Randall Bain, who is also part of the Cannabis movement here spoke of the range of spa products which can be derived from hemp and which could assist the growing health, wellness and spa sector.
“This is the kind of thing which we needed to have been doing for quite some time. We could be growing this as opposed to importing raw material thereby creating employment which is the main thing we have been talking about for a decade and a half to reduce our crime and to get our young people back in the field in a real industry,” Bain stated. According to him hemp could be the crop to replace the ailing banana industry and we may be missing out on being the first in the region to explore its potential.
The cannabis movement says support was given in principal to their efforts by the minister of Agriculture of South Africa (we were shown letters as proof) as well as approval in writing by then PS in Agriculture Dr Jimmy Fletcher. The letter read in part: “I am pleased to inform you that the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has been informed by the Ministry of Health that it has no objections to the industrial hemp initiative. And consequently a request has been made of the Attorney General’s chambers to prepare the necessary regulations that would facilitate research trials in commercial hemp activation.” The cannabis movement was then asked to identify planting material and a research plot immediately, so that there would be “no delays after the removal of the legislative barriers.” However according to Bain the idea was shot down by Fletcher’s successor soon after his seat was vacated making hemp, which falls under the marijuana family, still very much illegal to import, plant, grow or use here in Saint Lucia.
All of this having been said and done Bain said they have pressed on doing continuous research and advocacy on the product. “We just need to move ahead with the hope that they will revise their thinking and at least do the research required to give this country a much need boost on the industrial sector,” he stressed. “While there is no guarantee that we can grow this efficiently here,” he admitted, “but we have to at least try to see if it can happen.”
Andre De Caires, head of the local cannabis movement and the green party called in the media last Friday, hoping he says that the press could assist in educating people about the issues. “They need to let the people see this is not about the decriminalization of marihuana and encouraging people to smoke or to promote marijuana and stuff like that,” DeCaires says. “Yes, being the political leader of a party of a group, the green party that deals with human rights issues and incarcerating people for victimless non-violent crimes is on the manifesto all green parties. But having said that our focus is due to the fact that we are in the middle of a world economic crisis and we have to look at food security and producing what we eat and eating and using what we grow and using agriculture as one of the stable development sectors. Introducing industrial hemp can help grow that sector,” De Caires emphasizes.
In the meantime the cannabis movement of Saint Lucia says that they have been making contact with organizations like the World Bank, the EU, Oxfam and CID, international organizations they claim with a mandate of supporting non-agricultural crops, industrial hemp being one of them. If the green light is given they say the first step would be to submit their proposals to these agencies and get the necessary funding. Once funding is sourced the group says they would then work with the Ministry of Agriculture to use the Union agricultural research station as a base to work with farmers and then use some of the funding to train local police here in England so they can effectively service and monitor the hemp fields to ensure compliance.