By Orville Williams
With the global legal cannabis market valued at more than US$20 billion, the Antigua and Barbuda Medicinal Cannabis Authority (MCA) is moving forward with plans to enter the consumer stage of the local industry.
The MCA issued the country’s first cannabis production licence to GROW Antigua – also the country’s first homegrown medical cannabis company – in June last year and the company celebrated its first official harvest in December.
The next step in building the local industry, according to MCA Chairman Ambassador Daven Joseph, is for companies like GROW Antigua to acquire the appropriate licence and establish dispensaries for consumers to be able to purchase medicinal cannabis products.
Ambassador Joseph told Observer that the preparation for that next step is well underway and should be completed in a matter of months.
“We’re now in the process of organising training for our pharmacists and our medical professionals who are interested in participating in the industry, and we are also putting in place strict procedures for surveillance and control.
“I guarantee you that by April , all of this will be in place, because we’re working with a strict timeline. [We’re] looking at Jamaica’s and St Vincent and the Grenadines’ experience, to make sure that we learn from and avoid the chinks that they had in moving forward,” he explained.
The ambassador also disclosed that the MCA is considering the introduction of an additional component to the local medicinal cannabis industry, to broaden the scope of what the companies can offer to consumers once the dispensaries open for business.
“What we’re also looking at doing in order to augment our products – because we have not gone into the actual processing as yet for value-added products – is providing import permissions to those establishments that are expecting to [open] their dispensaries.
“We’re looking toward them being able to import products out of Jamaica and St Vincent and the Grenadines in short order too,” he said.
This news will certainly be welcomed by cannabis aficionados and those involved from a business standpoint, considering the obvious gap currently in the system.
Though marijuana possession and use were decriminalised under the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill of 2017, there are still no legal channels available for consumers to purchase the product in the twin islands.
The dispensaries are set to fill that gap, but Ambassador Joseph warned consumers that the medicinal context will be strictly maintained.
“The laws are very clear as to how we will establish our dispensaries and the regulations will govern the behaviour of both the users and the proprietors of these establishments.
“It is a medicinal product that we’re offering, so it has to go through the process of prescription for the end users,” he added.
As far as GROW Antigua in concerned, the ambassador noted that their harvested product will remain under lock and key until the company gets the go-ahead to commence dispensary operations.
That milestone, he added, should be reached sooner rather than later.
“We have in place a track and trace system to ensure that the harvested product, the flower, is secured until GROW Antigua approaches us as to how they wish to establish their dispensary, to pass it on to the general public.
“They have [initiated the process to acquire the dispensary licence]. We are working and cooperating with them to get that process in place as soon as possible,” Ambassador Joseph said.