One Canadian-based preventative and medical physician has poured cold water on any notion that Barbados could compete with other jurisdictions for the growing of cannabis for export.
At the same time, Professor Louis Hugo Francescutti is warning Barbadian authorities to proceed with caution as they establish a medical marijuana industry here.
He was addressing the opening of a Barbados Employers’ Confederation one-day seminar at the Savannah Hotel on Thursday under the theme Decriminalization of Marijuana: The Employers’ Response.
Highlighting the country’s ongoing drought, the past president of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada said growing on a large scale would require a lot of water and he did not see Barbados being able to do that on a sustained basis.
“Just in case you wanted to start growing it here, you know, if you think that ‘we are going to grow Barbados marijuana and we are going to make a fortune and the revenue is going to be great’… Well, to grow marijuana makes no difference if they are growing it in the Arctic or in Barbados, you are not going to be growing it outdoors. It has to be grown in a controlled environment,” said Francescutti.
“And a controlled environment is going to require certain amount of humidity, a lot of electricity and a lot of water. Water woes continue. So I don’t know if you are the right place to start growing marijuana to try and compete with countries that are so far ahead of you. In Canada the operations are unbelievable. I don’t think an island like Barbados could compete at any level,” he said.
The Mia Mottley administration has already announced the addition of five marijuana-based drugs to be added to the local drug formulary, a first step towards fully establishing medical cannabis industry.
However, when it comes to legalization of the weed for recreational use, Government has promised to have a referendum.
Francescutti warned that it was critical that the country put certain mechanisms in place including laws similar to those in Canada that would make provision for employers to accommodate users of cannabis and cannabis products even if they become addicts.
“Eventually if you are following what other countries are doing you may end up with laws like that, or if somebody challenges you and take it to the court system you have to accommodate them,” he said.
“If you are going to go down this route you better start putting some serious dollars towards treatment because you are going to need it. And if you are an employer you better start figuring out how you are going to deal with people that are going to show up at work under the effect,” he warned.
He added: “Make it mandatory that if the government goes through to legalization and is promoting this industry, that 40 per cent of it is directed towards treatment.”
He said if there was a country that Barbados should look to for guidance in rolling out a medical cannabis market is Portugal. He said that country had a “very robust detoxification programme and support programmes in place”.
Francescutti said he did not see the decriminalization of the drug impacting the illicit drug trade, since those who want to buy large quantities would still do so.
He said while the medical cannabis industry could be a lucrative one there were a number of devastating consequences that should be considered.
“The only good consequence I guess is that there is a little more revenue, but you have to balance that by how much more policing and expense in medicine that you are going to have to put into this. So you can do it but do it very carefully,” he cautioned.
The past president of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) told the room of professionals that with the decriminalization of marijuana, the country faces the risk of having an increased number of addicts and suicide cases.
Using the state of Colorado as an example, he also stated that cannabis use could result in more high school dropouts, an increase in fatal road accidents and a decline in tourist arrivals.
“If there is a family history of schizophrenia, starting to smoke at a young age will increase the risk of the schizophrenia manifesting itself. You are going to see a lot more psychotic episodes and we are beginning to see this right now in Canada,” he warned.
“Start measuring drops in tourism as well because quite frankly, you go down this route and your motor vehicle rates go up, your fatality rates go up because the lifeguard is up in the lifeguard shed smoking a joint and not seeing people drowning….The little things like that and word gets out, who is going to want to come to Barbados? …. So it is going to impact on your tourists. It is going to impact on your productivity,” he said.
He suggested that any law put in place should ensure that the use of cannabis-based products or the use of small quantities of the drug was by individuals over the age of 25.
Pointing out that marijuana had not yet undergone extensive research, Francescutti said there was need for frank and open discussions in Barbados before government established a medical marijuana industry. He noted that establishing such an industry meant that marijuana would be included in many things including food, body products and medications.
Stating that it was a difficult but crucial conversation that would evoke a lot of emotional responses, he warned of the impact it could have on the youth under 25 that could be irreversible.
In frank terms, the physician said if Barbados ended up with an increase in addiction due to decriminalization of cannabis and did not have resources and mechanisms in place to deal with them “then you are sc…ed”.
“Because what you are doing is creating a population of addicts but you are not providing any kind of means to help them,” he said.