THE cost of licences to produce marijuana, at each stage from growing to exporting, may be so onerous as to squeeze the small grower out of the proposed local industry in legal marijuana.
Opposition Senator Jayanti Lutchmedial gave this warning in the Senate on Tuesday in the debate on the Cannabis Control Bill 2020.
She began by weighing up the pros and cons of legalising cannabis consumption, saying as an attorney she has already seen the benefits of cannabis decriminalisation to users, but recalling from her university days some brilliant minds harmed by the herb.
Lutchmedial said without senators seeing the regulations due to accompany the bill, it was difficult to have a meaningful debate.
Saying much research has been done internationally on the medicinal benefits of cannabis, she said, “I know several people outside of TT who will attest to its use for pain management and the management of asthma.” But she said cannabis also posed a risk of addiction and urged that some of the fees collected under this bill should be allocated to fund rehabilitation.
“Rehabilitation is severely under-resourced,” she said, calling for more funding for the Piparo Empowerment Centre.
In her main point, Lutchmedial said the cost of growing a business would be beyond the reach of many existing small cannabis farmers.
They will not likely have easy access to capital or land.
“They are not people who are going to sit behind their MacBook and type up a business plan and go to the bank to get financing. They are not people who own large and vast amounts of property.”
She warned that if the bill’s regulations spell out licence requirements that are far beyond current growers, the result would be “the promotion of big business at the expense of our small farmers.
“It will not help to grow and develop the small businesses in this country, and that is the biggest concern I have.
“I do not want to see what we are doing here today and the work of our committee, the work we do here as a Parliament, essentially ends up being a locking-out of the small farmers.”
Lutchmedial said Jamaican MP Lisa Hanna had once warned that had happened in her country. However, she said St Vincent had waived licence fees for two years to help small growers.
She the sum of the cultivators’, processors’, retail, export and transport licences could be prohibitive to small operators. To meet the export market, extra demands were imposed on growers by requirements for quality control and standardisation, Lutchmedial added.
She had concerns with how cannabis for religious purposes would be dispensed.
She was also worried about the constitutionality of the bill in letting the authorities enter the licenced cannabis plantations, especially those owned by small operators who had spent years ducking the police.