By Carlena Knight
After being in existence for over than two years, the Antigua and Barbuda Medicinal Cannabis Authority (MCA) handed over its first official cannabis production licence yesterday.
The company, GROW Antigua – a joint initiative between Itopia Life Antigua, the National Asset Management Company (NAMCO) and Rastafari Food For Life (RFFL) – was duly licensed during a ceremony at its facility in Seatons.
Present at the ceremony was Prime Minister Gaston Browne who spoke about the benefits this new venture will bring to the country, the main being the expected 10 percent contribution to the local economy once the industry is up and running.
Browne also added that it was a “proud occasion for him personally” as he has witnessed the Rastafarian community being castigated, for more than 50 years, over the use of cannabis.
This venture, he said, will now aid in unifying the Rastafarian community with the general public after years of discrimination.
Echoing his sentiments was Elder Ras Osagyfu who is also representative of the RFFL. Osagyfu mentioned that “it was indeed a pleasure for him to witness such an occasion like this”.
With a bit of humour, the elder also highlighted the irony of the situation as only in recent times the world is beginning to see what the Rastafarian community has known all along — that the medicinal benefits of cannabis are insurmountable.
Director of GROW Antigua Andrew Moody Stuart also spoke briefly outlining the necessity for those involved to address what specific areas need their attention so that their joint venture “can thrive not only on the local market but regionally through trade with countries like Jamaica”.
Stuart added that it is also imperative that adequate education is given to the public on the medicinal cannabis industry and how it could benefit them personally both health wise and economically.
This event now marks the first official move into the cannabis industry within the territory and also the first through a public/private sector partnership.
Back in 2019 – the same year the MCA came into existence – Jamaica-based medical cannabis company, Itopia Life, made a proposal to the government to invest around EC $10 million for a medicinal cannabis project that would cater exclusively to the local market.
The proposal included the establishment of greenhouses, an extraction lab, dispensaries and a research and development facility, in collaboration with the University of the West Indies (The UWI) Five Islands Campus.
A statement from the government on the development noted that it would receive a 24 percent stake in exchange for the use of government lands, another 24 percent would go toward a Rastafarian community that would supply labour, with the remaining 52 percent going to the private company, Itopia Life.
It is unclear at this point whether any adjustments have been made to those ownership stakes since then, but it was said that the profits would be distributed along those lines.