Editorial: Medical marijuana dollars

Not too long ago, we wrote about the medical marijuana industry that appears to be on the horizon in Antigua and Barbuda. We pointed out the obvious – that there was a huge amount of money to be made – and opined that the government must establish a licensing regime that is transparent and fair. We return to this topic because we have learned that firms and individuals continue to make presentations to Cabinet directly and this does not foster any feelings of transparency and fairness.  

We were under the impression that there would be a board established to oversee the licensing and it would be free from any political influence. We cannot allow this golden opportunity to become a ‘get rich quick’ scheme for political cronies and therefore, we must do all that we can to allow locals to take the lead and allow the wealth that will be created, to remain in the hands of locals. That way, we can all directly benefit form the money staying in Antigua and Barbuda and circulating here. There is no need to look beyond our shores for anything other than some expertise, and as we have said before, expertise is something that we can buy, it is not something that should buy us.

To be clear, the government has said that there has been no decision regarding who should be spearheading this venture. Chief of Staff, Lionel “Max” Hurst said the process is ongoing, and there is no exact date for when the selection would occur. That is good news and we congratulate the government on taking time to ensure that we do not repeat the mistakes of other countries that rushed into medical marijuana without enough preparation. Acknowledging the need for standards, etc., is a step in the right direction.

That said, we are still a bit concerned by what we are hearing and how the process is progressing therefore we would like to offer our contributions to the discussion. From our perspective, the board should be established as soon a possible. The composition should be a demonstration that politics has been removed from the decision making process and that the industry will be guided in such a way as to be beneficial to all. If the Cabinet decides who will spearhead the medical marijuana industry, the decision will always be overshadowed by perceptions of political bias. That must be eliminated. 

Let’s not lose sight of the big picture because this can be big business if executed correctly; so, let us treat it like a business.  Let us not get caught up in the petty politics that has ruined many a good idea. To that end, why can’t we set up a cooperation or co-operative that will be funded by local investors so that the greatest number of people can participate? People criticise the government constantly for giving away opportunities to foreigners so, this time, how about us setting up a business that will be funded by the public and operated by a board? People can invest now and reap the dividends later.  

The shareholding can be tailored to ensure that the small investor is not drowned by the large investor looking to take over. The board can ensure that farmers in the venture abide to the standards established and adhere to the rules and regulations. This does not exclude the government because it will set the standards along with rules and regulations that will guide the industry. The government will set policy and the board will be tasked with ensuring that it complies with the policies and laws of government. 

This is a great opportunity to do things differently and for the benefit of our people. We can be the first to establish a model that sets the pace for other small island states looking to get into this business. It can be a win-win scenario if executed correctly. The government will lead by setting policy and laws, which will include taxation (of the industry). In broad strokes, that should be the extent of the government’s involvement. On the business side, the publicly owned company would exist within that framework and deliver value for its shareholders through the execution of an agreed business plan.

We know that this does not match the PM’s broader plans of “entrepreneurial socialism” but we do not think that medical marijuana is a good fit for that philosophy. Today, it is medical marijuana but tomorrow it will just be marijuana. As the world moves towards decriminalisation, the marijuana industry will evolve and we need to be in an entrepreneurial mindset to take a­dvantage of what some industry experts think could pose a serious threat to the $200 billion alcohol industry. Just think of getting a small piece of that extremely large pie. Life in paradise would be great and we would no longer need to sell our citizenship and passports for a few dollars to help fund our economy.

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