EDITORIAL: Where there is smoke

The recently released Cabinet briefing noted that Cabinet invited a medical marijuana company, headquartered in Canada, to put forward a proposal for the establishment of a production facility in Antigua.  The apparent plan is to use 25 acres of farmland controlled by Antiguan farmers. Those farmers will receive training from the Canadian medical marijuana firm.  It is estimated that the project would provide US$18.7 million annually to government in taxes, fees, licenses and export duties.  That is a fairly good yield!

US$18.7 million for every 25 acres translates into almost US$750,000 per acre.  Not bad if we can get it.  The processing of the herb is expected to yield significant quantities of oils from the strains of plants that it would instruct the farmers to grow. The oils will then be bottled under controlled circumstances and exported to markets where there is a demand.   According to the briefing, the Canadians’ investment “would exceed eight million dollars in machines and three million in buildings, patent use, the purchase of seeds, security of farms and other expenses.”

On the surface, it all sounds so good, doesn’t it?  Millions of dollars in revenue, skills exchange, training, a boost to farming, etc., etc.  Then, not two days later, news breaks that the United States may impose lifetime bans on people who work in the marijuana industries regardless of the legal status of those industries in their respective countries.  To be accurate, the comments were made regarding Canadians, but it is unlikely that the U.S. will impose those punitive measures on its close neighbour and not on developing countries like ours. 

In an article published by politico.com, “the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency will continue to apply long-standing U.S. federal laws and regulations that treat marijuana as a banned substance — and participants in the cannabis industry as drug traffickers — who are inadmissible into the U.S.”  This according to Todd Owen, executive assistant commissioner for the Office of Field Operations, who gave POLITICO details about how CBP will apply long standing rules.

It makes no difference that the United States is easing state laws regarding marijuana possession and use, the fact is, marijuana is still prohibited under federal law and the CBP falls under a federal mandate.  And the net is wide.  According to the article, “Canadians who work in the marijuana industry — and those who invest in the booming pot sector — risk a lifetime ban on travel to the U.S.”  That is harsh, and we expect it will make more than a few people think before getting involved in the marijuana industries that hold the potential of making a serious, positive dent in many countries’ economic situation.

While Owen says that CBP officers will not be asking everyone about marijuana use, routine questions about employment could lead to detention and a lifetime ban.  So, if one of our farmers states that he or she works in the legal medical marijuana industry in Antigua and Barbuda, they face the serious risk of being banned from the U.S. for life.  And perhaps you became an investor in the industry and that is disclosed or discovered, you could face the same fate.   You see, according to Owens, the U.S. doesn’t “recognise that as a legal business.”  This is no joke, according to The Star,  “Canadians with links to the nascent legal industry, including venture capitalist, Sam Znaimer, and the chief executive of a B.C. agricultural machinery company, have already been given lifetime entry bans.”  Owens, himself, said that marijuana investors from other countries, such as Israel, have already been denied entry and there is no minimum level of investment that could trigger a ban.  Wow!

While many will downplay this as a minor bump in the road, we disagree. This type of action by the U.S. authorities has the ability to stifle the industries before they get off the ground.  It will spook everyone who may want to get involved; from investors, to farmers, to suppliers and consumers.  And as high-handed and over the top as this may seem, it is the sovereign right of every nation to decide whom it let’s in and whom it doesn’t.  It is up to the diplomats of desiring nations to get their citizens on the “preferred” list, and considering that we can’t even get on the visa interview waiver programme, we doubt that we can get around this.

So, after having so much enthusiasm for the potential of the medical marijuana industry to assist with our economic woes, we may find that it falls victim to the might of the United States, just like our online gambling and offshore financial services industries.  It just makes you wonder, sometimes, if our Big Brother to the north really wants to see us succeed.  

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