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By Shermain Bique-Charles

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Running a medical marijuana operation in Antigua and Barbuda will cost an investor a whopping EC$325,000 in a license fee, a sum so steep that, some politicians believe it may shut out the local man.

The United Progressive Party (UPP) for one, wants the government to go back to the drawing board and reduce the fee to obtain a marijuana license.

So far, 5 applications for licenses have been received, and one provisional license has been granted at a whopping cost of EC$325,000.

But political leader of the UPP, Harold Lovell, tells Observer that the fee is outrageous.

“It is a travesty, and I cannot see how any administration could consider something like this. It shows a lack of vision,” Lovell said yesterday.

Furthermore, he said the government seems to lack the understanding that the local man should be provided the opportunity to benefit from such a profitable industry.

“This is clearly an impediment to that opportunity. Only a few will be able to afford this. The government should be looking to see how they can make it easier for Antiguans and Barbudans to get into this industry,” he said.

The UPP leader says the entire situation reeks of discrimination for those coming from countries that uses different currencies.

“It is a great injustice to Antiguans and Barbudans, showing that the government has no real plan for empowerment. This is a golden opportunity, but all they are doing is creating a doorway where a few will benefit while the vast majority will end up being gardener, cutters, carriers…providing basic labour…,” he explained.

Lovell said it is not too late for the government to return to the drawing board on that particular matter.

“They need to take a holistic look at the industry and the regulation. It is very imprecise [and] vague, and its going to lead to a lot of problems because some things that apply to one may not apply to the other,” he said.

Lovell is not the only opposition voice disagreeing with the license fee.

The Democratic National Alliance (DNA) said in a statement that current cannabis regulations are restrictive and will impede entry to the industry for locals who may be interested in investing in the sector to capitalise on opportunities.

Louis Rivera, a spokesman for the party, said in a statement yesterday that if the government is serious about diversifying the economy, it is duty-bound to devise ways to empower locals first.

The party wants the government to review the current situation and proposes that the existing licensing fees be reflected in Eastern Caribbean (EC) dollars and not United States (US) dollars, and further, that these fees be reduced by fifty percent, thereby making them more affordable to locals.

But chief of staff in the Prime Minister’s office, Lionel ‘Max’ Hurst, told Observer that the fees only apply to those using cannabis for medical purposes.

Hurst said further that the license fee, which many residents say is too steep, is justified.

“It is a fair way of ensuring that those who enter into the market have the resources to support the commercial use of the cannabis in a medicinal form. Growing marijuana for the purposes of creating medicine is a rather intricate undertaking, and not many will have the capability of so doing. This is why the [fee] amount is so high,” he added.

The government warned that there are to be no waivers on the license fee. the Cabinet agreed.

The law anticipates that for religious purposes, cannabis grown by approved Rastafarian groups, will not have those fees applied, but will still be required to abide by other strictures as articulated in the law.

The Cannabis Board requires an injection of funds and seven employees to allow it to function.

The employees will be drawn from government departments, since there are to be no new hirings within the public sector, and funds will be provided to allow this sector to begin to yield returns as anticipated when the law was adopted.