By Orville Williams
After more than two years of existence, the Antigua and Barbuda Medicinal Cannabis Authority (MCA) is finally set to hand over its first official cannabis production licence next week.
The disclosure was made via a media advisory from the government yesterday, indicating that the company, GROW Antigua – a joint initiative between Itopia Life Antigua, the National Asset Management Company (NAMCO) and Rastafari Food For Life (RFFL) – would be receiving the licence next Monday during a ceremony at its facility in Seatons.
The event will certainly be historic for Antigua and Barbuda, as it will mark 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 for a medicinal cannabis investment 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.
Recently, Prime Minister Gaston Browne admitted that the hopes for the local cannabis industry as far as exportation is concerned, may have to be curbed, with the authorities in the US for example yet to legalize the plant at the federal level.
He expressed concern about the profitability of the industry if it is dependent solely on a local market, but was optimistic that discussions could be held about establishing a regional market.