Senate passes Cannabis Amendment Bill

Cannabis - Marijuana oil extracts in jars and leaves for treatment.
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By Carlena Knight

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Support came from both sides of the Senate floor as the Cannabis Amendment Bill 2021 was passed yesterday.

Changes to the 2018 bill are geared at clarifying some of the practical aspects surrounding the issuing of a Medicinal Cannabis Licence and for the better regulation of medicinal cannabis business operations.

One intriguing change to the bill is the permittance and use of the Medicinal Cannabis Therapeutic Centre Licence which will allow the use of medicinal cannabis products for the purpose of body massage and other types of external treatments to a patient.

With these changes, the Leader of Government Business, Senator Mary Clare Hurst, is adamant that now is the opportune time for the country to surge forward, saying the industry holds numerous benefits for all.

“What we need to do is to make sure that we not only pass it, but make sure that it is implemented so that all can benefit.

“My message is for it to be implemented sooner rather than later. There are lots of opportunities. Don’t let the word cannabis and hemp fool you; trust me, it can be used for many things, just do the research,” Hurst said.

Her sentiments were echoed by government Senator Colin O’Neal.

O’Neal said the passing of this bill will aid in bringing forth serious benefits to the country, and that it is long overdue for the country to begin looking at the medicinal benefits of cannabis.

“For far too long we have continuously denied the benefits that can be derived from a number of our traditional indigenous plants, and it boggles my mind to see that it took so long for this plant, a God-given plant, to be recognised for its medicinal properties so that here in Antigua and Barbuda we can start to see people that are ailing getting a chance to live a longer life and live healthier,” O’Neal said.

He noted that no longer can Antigua and Barbuda be left behind in this growing market.

“We are not going to be left behind. We cannot afford to be left behind. Jamaica, St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia – they’re all in the race to get a piece.

“This medicinal marijuana business is big money business and I am referring to the legal market. The size of it is growing globally.

“As a matter of fact, it is estimated that in the next seven years it is going to be valued in the region of US $84-85 billion. This is the opportune time for us to do the right thing,” he chided.

The Senate Minority Leader, Richard Lewis also added his voice to the debate.

He said changes like the Medicinal Cannabis Therapeutic Centre Licence will offer additional job opportunities for Antiguans and Barbudans.

“I see a plus; something that we can, as Antiguans and Barbudans, benefit from,” he said.

“It is another business option we are seeing here with the Medicinal Cannabis Therapeutic Centre Licence, which can be issued to individuals who want to exploit that.

“In general, as the Leader of Government Business said, when we do these things we enter into new territory and from time to time you have to come and make amendments.

“It is a work in progress and I am hoping that as we go along, we will continue to make amendments, that, in my opinion, would make it easier and easier for Antiguans and Barbudans to exploit the benefits of the cannabis industry,” Lewis added. 

The medicinal cannabis industry has seen soaring popularity worldwide in recent years, with some celebrities positioning themselves to invest.

Former heavyweight boxer, Mike Tyson, previously expressed an interest in contributing to the local medicinal cannabis business.

For some time, discussions have been ongoing with a view to launching medicinal cannabis ventures in the twin islands.

Since then, a Medicinal Cannabis Authority has been put in place to oversee and regulate the business, as well as to oversee research and development. Licensing fees have since been publicised with several persons said to have applied.

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