A Drive to Keep the Industry Partially Local

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As Barbados moves toward the development of a medical cannabis industry, the government is taking steps to try to make sure its citizens are the primary beneficiaries. For one thing, it plans to cap foreign investment in the industry and require a percentage of local investment. Officials also say they want to grant land for cannabis cultivation to local farmers and members of the Rastafarian community to ensure their participation as well. 

The country’s government is eager to join Saint Kitts and Nevis, which is advancing similar legislation through its Parliament, and to follow Jamaica and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, which have already established cannabis industries. 

Leaders in Barbados, however, say they want to avoid past mistakes in other industries, which saw foreign companies reap all of the financial benefits of Barbados’ resources, according to the Barbados Minister of Agriculture, Indar Weir, who led off debate on the draft of the Medicinal Cannabis Bill (2019) on Friday.

(Cannabis Wire’s latest: coverage of local reactions to the unveiling of the bill last month. Read that story here.)

To that end, the bill requires local investment. Recalling Barbados’ history in sugar cane and cotton production, Weir said, “So that even if a foreign investor comes to Barbados to invest in cultivation, processing, in retail and distribution, spas or clinics… provisions have to be made for Barbadians to own 30 percent. So, at no stage will Barbadians be left out of it.” 

As for the participation of local farmers, Weir said that the government will make provisions for the Rastafarian community, including granting them access to 60 acres of land for legal cultivation, and is working to engage other farmers with loans and other land grants. 

“This is the first step towards ensuring that they will not be left out of the new cannabis industry,” Weir said.

The mere granting of land for cannabis cultivation has, however, been criticized as a half measure by the president of the Barbados-based African Heritage Foundation, a collective of pan Africanists and community development activists, Paul ‘Ras Simba’ Rock. He said it is contradictory to allow members of the group to earn revenue from cannabis while failing to allow for its use for religious purposes. 

“This inclusion of the Rastafari community is not documented in the bill. I am not sure if it has to be, but for my one, I think it should,” he wrote in a blog post shared with Cannabis Wire on Monday. “If indeed Rastafari was initially considered to be part of the industry, was it not considered that this plant you are giving them license to cultivate for your industry, is their sacred plant and it is still illegal for them to use?”

The government will also give consideration, Weir said, to the integration of cannabis into the country’s tourism industry, which currently generates more than 50% of the country’s foreign currency earnings, with spas, resorts, and other facilities. The government also announced plans to invest in the development of certified training programs at Barbados’ Samuel Jackman Prescod Institute Of Technology and Barbados’ campus of the University of the West Indies to encourage citizens’ participation in the industry and to “position Barbados where it can become a global leader for research and development,” Weir said.

The government will also review proposals to distinguish Barbados by developing the country’s own “unique cultivar” that would give “Barbados its own geographic indication where medicinal cannabis is concerned.” 

Barbados’ Medicinal Cannabis Bill itself, which is currently in the House of Assembly, is undergoing changes as well. For example, the latest draft allows cultivation licenses to be renewed every three years, while the previous version included an annual renewal requirement.

This month, the bill will go to a Joint Select Committee of Barbados’ Parliament, a selected group of members from its House of Assembly and Senate. The bill will be reintroduced in the House in October, and, due to high support among those in power in Parliament, is likely to pass. 

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