One local pro cannabis advocate is setting off alarm bells in light of a recent announcement by Prime Minister Mia Mottley that firms in Canada were eager to invest in a cannabis industry in Barbados.
President of the African Heritage Foundation (AHF) Paul Simba Rock told Barbados TODAY he was not surprised that investors in Canada were already lining up.
However, he feared local individuals would be left out while foreign investors and “big lawyers” are given first preference.
“There is the fear of the international investors coming in and taking over the market and I think that fear is rightly founded. Recently the Prime Minister said she was in Canada and assuring Canadians of investment opportunities . . . So how can you be making all these claims that will seemingly to the unthinking ear, seem to be progressive, yet your people here are still being victimized daily for this same prohibition?” he said.
During a recent press conference to provide an update on her travel to Canada and the US, Mottley told journalists that a number of firms in Canada expressed “great interest” in setting up here.
“Many of the companies, coming out of Canada, need an opportunity to be able to ensure that if they domicile in Barbados, [they can operate] their business enterprise for the rest of the world without any difficulties,” said Mottley, while indicating that a medical marijuana industry in Barbados was “one that is likely to garner significant business”.
Changes will first have to be made to legislation to allow for the establishment of the industry here, and Mottley said that law would “ensure that Barbadian farm workers are not prejudiced in any way”.
Although the announcement was made late last year that a framework would be put in place for a medical cannabis industry, and a referendum would be required for recreational use, no deadline has been set and there have been no known progress to date.
Rock told Barbados TODAY he was disappointed that the process was taking so long, indicating that the country was playing “catch up”.
“I would like to hear an announcement from the Prime Minister this evening saying the police will stop locking up people. I would like them to be able to say we will be having public forums to discuss ideas or set up an email address where people could send in suggestions on how the cannabis industry could be developed. Get the people involved,” he insisted.
“Don’t try and fool me to say you are being progressive. No, you are behind time trying to catch up and it is only because of the big businesses . . . It is the big boys who are forcing us to move,” said Rock.
Insisting that cannabis was no different from garden herbs such as parsley, Rock said “The same legislation you have for onion, celery and parsley put that to cannabis, which is none.
“The prohibition has never been about health, it is about economics. So right now what I would like to see within an amnesty would be for personal possession for about five ounces and being able to plant at least 15 trees,” he recommended.
“It is kind of overly hypocritical that we are talking about all this investment into cannabis and all this medical cannabis but yet we are still seeing these arrests . . . and sort of draconian legislation and penalties being put on people for rather small amounts,” Rock added.
The AHF is in the process of garnering signatures for a petition to be presented to Government at the end of this month for urgent repeal of the law dealing with possession of marijuana.
Rock said after starting a survey some two weeks ago, he found that there was the lack of awareness among the population about the drug, and this could create some challenges when it came to a referendum for recreational use.
He insisted that Government come forward and involve the population in town hall meetings where ministers and experts are present to answer questions.
In relation to concerns about the effects it could have on road users and individual’s mental health, Rock said statistics showed that in places where the drug use was legal there were no increases in accidents.
“You have all these road fatalities, domestic abuse and other things linked to alcohol, but then you have legislation to address it, why not just do the same for cannabis,” he said.
“It is hypocritical, the arguments that they are coming with, because you already have a substance that it is known is way more damaging than cannabis, but it is legal. There are many plants that are mind-altering,” he said.
President of the Barbados Road Safety Association (BRSA) Sharmane Roland-Bowen agreed there was a need for greater education on the matter, but insisted that it could have negative impacts on road users.
“Our major concern is the impact it will have on the road with people using it and getting behind the wheel . . . and the people who are not using it and will come into contact with people on the road that are using it,” she explained.
“I want them to think clearly about what is going to happen when we give way to recreational marijuana to the average person,” she said.