By Orville Williams
The government’s stipulations for the local medicinal cannabis industry have caused growing disgruntlement among some residents, primarily where the $325,000 licence fee is concerned.
Members of the board that is in place “to examine the application for licences and the determination of compliance with the strict rules governing production and manufacturing of the medicines”, made an appearance at Cabinet on Wednesday and indicated that five licence applications have so far been received, with one provisional licence already granted.
Further, according to this week’s post-Cabinet report, the members agreed that there are to be no waivers for the more than half a million-dollar cannabis licence fee. The report also notes that – for religious purposes – the fees will not be applied to cannabis grown by approved Rastafarian groups.
Despite that latter ‘concession’, residents are starting to ask questions of the high fee requirement, suggesting that it will, whether directly or indirectly, force the opportunities in the sector away from the “common man” and into the welcoming arms of the “privileged few”.
Social media reactions to the significant fee were almost all along that same theme. Selvin Phillip wrote, “$325,000 for the licence alone – so you must have access to at least one million dollars to be able to access this type of business. Just like everything else, the rich alone [will benefit] even though they were the ones that used to crucify young people about marijuana.”
Another commenter, Jocelyn Henry-Hampson, used a bit of sarcasm to get her point across, saying “The price of the licence seems to suggest – [wealthy] people come, [while] you common Antiguans better get a job in the herb fields. When will ordinary, deserving people get a break?”
Noel Josh Benjamin shared similar views as Phillip and Henry-Hampson, saying, “Up to now, the laws prevent the common man from growing, possessing large quantities, so while they keep their boots on the neck of the small man, it’s ‘anything goes’ for the wealthy – particularly those from outside Antigua.”
However, he went further still, laying out an alternative path for the growth of the industry.
“I would think the sensible thing to do is have a tiered system. The $300,000 should apply to growth and production over a certain amount, [but] even that amount I think is excessive. They should also have smaller licensing fees for small and medium-sized production for locals.
“The growing is regulated by the Ministry of Agriculture, while production by Health and/or Bureau of Standards. Tax the end-product as you do with cigarettes and alcohol, and issue licences for sale and distribution as is done with alcohol. [Additionally], equally tax the sale of any other hemp products manufactured. Not rocket science, but what do I know.”
Those comments are just needles in a seemingly never-ending haystack of scrutiny, as residents continue to advocate for more equitable local arrangements in what has become a multi-billion-dollar global industry.
Though the rationale for the cannabis licence fee has not yet been disclosed by the government, there are many “ordinary” residents who will hope the fee is not set in stone, so they can at least have some hope of getting a piece of the pie.