The Mia Mottley administration may be about to enact medicinal marijuana legislation, but it could take as much seven years before exporting the herb commercially, a top regional agronomist has suggested.
The Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute’s (CARDI) representative to Barbados Ansari Hosein told Barbados TODAY that the country had a lot of catching up to do on the research necessary to embark on any development of a marijuana industry.
Hurdles such as identifying the best strains and soil conditions for growing the plant are yet to be overcome, he said. He further noted that given the fact that marijuana cultivation is still illegal, it is currently not possible to conduct this vital research locally.
Hosein said: “It is going to take a while because we need to get the data, we need to find out what is there already, the knowledge that already exists in the communities that grow it.
“Depending on what we find, the time period may not be as long as we are thinking in terms of getting from legislation to a position where we can export.
“I personally believe that it may take about six or seven years in order to reach that level where we can talk about export because it is going to take some serious research as it relates to different strains and this is going to take some time.”
But since St. Vincent and the Grenadines is at a more advanced stage of their marijuana industry, the regional agricultural research agency intends to collaborate with Canadian investors to begin the process of gathering research data there, the CARDI representative said.
Hosein said: “The legislation in Barbados at the moment does not allow us to plant marijuana so that we can do our research.
“However, St. Vincent and the Grenadines is ahead in terms of their legislation, and we are presently in talks with some investors out of Canada to deliver on the research and development component of medicinal marijuana in that country.”
Hosein explained that while soil compositions may differ, conditions in the two island neighbours are quite similar and as a result, it would just be a matter of tweaking the findings in one island to suit another, rather than attempting to reinvent the wheel.
He said: “In St. Vincent the soil would be a little richer but whatever we do in another country, while you may not be able to transfer that technology as is into another country, you may have to do some tweaking.
“So, the template may already be there, but one may just have to adjust.
“For example, in St Vincent, you may find that the fertilizer requirements there would be lower than the fertilizer requirements here.
“This means that we would need to do soil testing once we better understand the requirement for the marijuana to grow.”
The agronomist also told Barbados TODAY that people who have been cultivating the plant illegally over the years will have a part to play in the research process, as they possess a wealth of knowledge about the ideal growing conditions for the plant.
“We need to have varietal evaluations and the different levels of the compounds that are being targeted.
“Some varieties may have higher or lower in terms of normal agronomic practices.
“Some of this information would already be in traditional knowledge and by this, I mean people who already grow the thing. What we may have to do is just validate it in terms of the water requirements, shade requirements, soil requirements, and fertilizer requirements.”
But Hosein suggested that getting out of the blocks late could benefit Barbados, which would be able to learn from the mistakes of forerunners, ensuring that the local industry can get off the ground with fewer teething problems.
He said: “We are hoping that it is a matter of applying a similar model.
“Hopefully, Barbados will come on stream as it relates to its legislation in a matter of two or three months and we are hoping that by that time we would have the makings of a nice model.
“Any mistakes or lessons learned will benefit Barbados when they start.”