The government of Saint Lucia may soon join fellow Caribbean Community (CARICIOM) members Antigua and Barbuda, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Jamaica that have decriminalized cannabis. Prime Minister Allen Chastanet made the disclosure during an exclusive sit-down with the STAR this week.
Although possession of the substance is illegal here, there has been a major decline in related charges over the years. Based on data from the Central Statistics Office, in 2007 there were 415 “crimes detected” concerning the unlawful possession of cannabis. Crimes detected refers to matters that are investigated, individuals arrested and charged, or given a warning. In 2008 that number declined to 326. From 2013-2017 there were 217, 101, 82, 107 and 132, respectively. Will these violations soon be a thing of the past? “We had some very good meetings before Christmas,” said the prime minister, “and we’ve agreed that we’ll be going through a process of decriminalization.”
The next step, he said, will be to tap into existing commercial opportunities. Concerning cultivating for medicinal purposes, he said his government has been struggling to ascertain what laws and guidelines Canada will abide by, regarding importation of hemp oil into that country, and is hopeful that companies that have expressed interest in coming to Saint Lucia will assist in that regard.
“It’s still very unclear how big that market is going to be, and whether its going to be a completely legal market; what’s going to be the rules regulating the cross-border exportation of hemp. So we’re speaking to several companies in hopes that we can make that happen,” Chastanet said. Last week the chairman of the local cannabis movement Mr. Andre DeCaires expressed disappointment with the length of time it’s taken Saint Lucia to start a cannabis industry. He claimed the tardiness had resulted in a potential investor deciding to move to St. Vincent and the Grenadines. It has been estimated that St. Vincent’s medical cannabis industry will generate EC$5 million in 2019.
Chastanet said that it was more important to get things right than to speed into trouble. “It’s not necessarily true when people say we’re missing out on opportunities. Small island that we are, we have to keep in mind that whatever we produce from hemp, there are more developed countries that can produce it in bigger quantities.” He acknowledged that while it may be true the industry is growing, still it must be handled very carefully.
Chastanet says the government must ensure that support mechanisms are in place, in terms of determining consumption rights, setting standards and so on. “That’s not to give an excuse,” he said. “We are moving forward with this, but we obviously understand there are still many questions to be answered.”