Side Event: CARICOM Marijuana Commission and Fair Trade Options for the Cannabis Market

Organized by the Government of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the Transnational Institute and Intercambios Puerto Rico.

Dave Bewley Taylor (Global Drug Policy Observatory): I plan to discuss the key points made of our report, and the important and pressing issues which are in many ways being overlooked in current policy debates, both regional and international. Our new report ‘Fair(er) Trade options for the cannabis market’ that entails fairer trade is built upon some of the key findings from the hugely successful report produced by the CARICOM regional commission on marijuana. The report was a thorough consultative piece of work in terms of research for the region. Attempting to emulate the good practice of the CARICOM report, the cannabis innovate report is based on mixed methodology, based on research with stakeholders, with a variety of workshops across the globe, and consultations with drug policy and free trade experts.

Fair(er) trade reflects an acknowledgement for the definitional basis around the term fair trade and variations thereof. It demonstrates our belief for the utility of high principles, what we might call the fair trade movement, the rapidly restructuring drug market and how it’s impacting small farmers in what we call the global south. I’d like to run through some key points of the report; Policy change over the past five years significantly reshaped global drug and medical approaches, the change agreed in many quarters looks set to bring a wide range of benefits on health and human rights. There is genuine concern about unfolding market dynamics and particularly the issue for profit companies and threat and exclusion of marginalised farmers from less developed nations. Despite some efforts to assist small scale farmers to transit out to legality, many barriers still exist for entering the market for these communities. We argue for a fairer trade model, built around a rights based, inclusive and environmentally based approach and enables way in which we can frame the debate, and market structuring. Indeed, carefully designed regulatory frameworks can assist farmers to work with or alongside large companies, but importantly can also help achieving the sustainable development goals in these parts of the world where ending poverty remains a significant concern and ‘leaving no one behind’.

We argue that the development of a fairer trade market needs a different approach and a consideration of a range of interconnected frameworks committed to the commodity chain. Within the report these frameworks are designed to better understand the situation and focus our minds. We can organise those in terms of producer, quality standards, consumer and end-user. There are key issues we need to consider, such as empowering producers, quality and standards and manufacturing practices, issues to do with consumers and end users. We can ask questions such as is there a demand for fairer trade? What are the opportunities and challenge in recruiting political consumers? Doing so will avoid the big cannabis complex in well-function supply chains and policy tools to shape markets. It’s important to stress these are initial considerations as opposed to anything definitive, allowing thought and change for a future market. These frameworks are applied in nature, and we must be thinking about now and what can be done on the ground.

Looking at cannabis as a commodity in itself, we can look at experience from other commodity sectors. In order to frame the broader debate, and associated nature of market engagement, we offer up  a more generalised conceptual structure, and while the rapidly expanding landscape is complex, it is fluid and it is possible to establish agreed upon principles in which a cannabis market can be built.

Guiding principles are core inclusions to the commitment to solidarity and social justice. We must build farmer empowerment and view farmers not just as producers but as valued creators. Labour protections also involves fair domestic control and civil society participation in the policy-making process and as a result greater transparency and long term strategies, not immediate, but long-term. Finally social history, foregrounding traditional growing communities and religious and cultural histories as the market develops. It’s important to highlight these are not exhaustive and will be developed over time, we see this project an initial view into the topic, hopefully stimulating further debate and establishing a research agenda as the illicit market evolves. Above all, the guiding principles and report now at the CND and at the national level are a call to policy makers to developments agencies and investors, to take fairer trade seriously and to help to transform a utopia to a reality

Annette Henri (Cannabis licensing Authority, Jamaica): I will be discussing ongoing legislative reforms and deliberate steps Jamaica has been taking to involve traditional ‘grassroots farmers’ in the emerging licit global cannabis market. Importantly, the cannabis licensing authority believes that it is crucial to the Caribbean region to contribute to the debate around cannabis. This side event will be a catalyst for change and greater cohesion, regionally and internationally. At the heart of much change, specific cultural aspects must be involved. Prior to the amendment of the Dangerous Drug Act amendment in 2015 , there were many agitations in the Rastafari community. The Dangerous Drug Act of 1948 spelt many negative consequences for persons prosecuted for small quantities of marijuana from personal to sacramental use. Since, the Cannabis Licensing Authority has gone above and beyond to facilitate the lawful, medical marijuana industry. We went even further by allowing Jamaicans the right to grow five plants, ensuring an individual in possession of two ounces or less can no longer be tried in court as it no longer carries a severe criminal conviction, instead at most a fine. We understand the significant impact of criminal records and favour a system of rehabilitation, which is the way to deal with the matter.

The CARICOM report speaks many things; but an important proponent is having provisions in place to protect children and vulnerable people in possession of cannabis through the likes of counselling and rehabilitation. In terms of provision, the National council of drug abuse is the supporting body in Jamaica by dealing with matters of public education and vulnerable people. At the cannabis licensing authority, we are responsible for Jamaica’s regulatory framework. In 2016 and in conjunction with the ministry of justice, we have established a new framework perspective for Jamaica and we are mindful of cultural activities and the international sphere. Looking to the future, it is important we treat the realities both locally and internationally. Enforcement and monitoring divisions, responsible for carrying out surveillance on industries must ensure licenses are distributed in conformity with those requirements.

Importantly for Jamaica we understand the social reality, the amendments demonstrate Jamaicans are law makers and are aware of their social and economic realities both internationally and locally. We are working with different entities to ensure right testing measures are in place, and to ensure cannabis for medical purpose is of high quality. It is important to maintain good manufacturing practices, good distribution practices, respectful of law and a licensing authority responsibility. The eventual hope is by seeking to put regulation on imports and exports of cannabis and hemp.

There have been persons in the Caribbean who will say years before this 2015 amendment that have gone to prison for small possession. While I also comment on fair trade, the licensing authority Is planning a category or subcategory to support the cultivation of marijuana for medical and scientific purposes. Small farmers will be able to apply for waiver of all fees payable on the regulation. As licensees would be expected to enter this regulatory place and not withstand this tension, a small farmer to apply to the licensing authority, to defer the payment, may enter into part-payment or may ask us to waiver these fees. There are particular group that have been cultivating cannabis for a long time, and especially traditional marijuana farmers and an a move away from an illicit market. There must be alternative development and fair trade principles employed to secure a legitimate place for small farmers in the fast growing cannabis market.

Expect more from Jamaica in the future, come April we will be launching the alternative development programme. Jamaica has also decided be here with a delegation of six, but we hope to be here with many other Caribbean countries and hope to seek a place on the CND in the future.

Rose Marie Antoine: My discussion today will focus on the Caribbean and what we will do in terms of the status of marijuana. It is important to understand that the effects hold great significance beyond the CARICOM region, but at the international sphere. Our exercise to this point has consisted of wide spread consultancy, and since it was launched, Jamaica jumped first at the opportunity of de-factor legalization.

St. Vincent was one of many to pass laws to legalise cannabis, as many countries are willing to engage in reform, following what is clearly the desire for Caribbean people. In terms of policy and legislative change, CARICOM has been a massive success, acknowledging failures of current regime and we look forward to continuous change. Domestic change on the front, there must be policy shift in the international bodies and policies. This is an opportunity for reform on a scientific and evidence based grounding. So permitting medical marijuana as a legal substance in my view is necessary but not a sufficient first step. Incidentally the distinction between medical and recreational is artificial at best, one man’s recreation is another woman’s medicine. The Caribbean has however hit the point of unforeseen roadblock with regards to cannabis as for many years the questions was legalize or decriminalize, or whether to accept cannabis as a status quo harmful substance. A paradigm shift occurred, the medical marijuana industry which appears to be a positive development, albeit the phenomenon presents a dangerous setting to ordinary people and can hijack the international agenda for reform and can even reverse important gains in the cannabis debate. We may have won a battle, but the war is still yet to be won. It is speeding up for medicinal purposes and slowing down for legalisation purposes. Caribbean people want this change and therefore it is a paradox. Cannabis should not be demonized, yet this new threat is emerging, and we are victims of our own success. What caused this?

These are the reasons; change in public opinion that international arrangements prevail. For many years in the Caribbean it was a free substance many have memories of grandparents using it way before prohibition which has severe consequences on people’s cultural traditions and around before ancient times. For the Rastafarian community it has deep religious sacrament and meaning. The current laws that exists in our region are only responses to international treaties and dangerous for our telling value. Harsh penalties operate within a context of strict liability and we accept the benefit of research that has now been proven inaccurate and a lot let harmful than made out to be. There is credible evidence that the acquisition of legal status falls in line with alcohol. The law lacks a rational basis, and therefore we deem it bad law and our people cannot accept it. Prohibition has been ineffective and counterproductive and small amount of persons who continue to use it despite war on drugs.

Instead we look towards a public health and education approach that offers more reward, as we’ve seen the bogey man does not exist. We feel it is unbalanced to regulate and remove prohibition when looking at scientific evidence. In terms of social equality and social justice questions – social justice cannot be ignored as crucial to how to approach the international arena. Against the rule of law, we have jails overflowing with otherwise law-abiding citizens or waste housing, with the likes of 80 years old being incarcerated, with even police authorities telling us about such inefficiency. It’s the poor, the marginalised most vulnerable which in most case translates to race. These social issues in terms of how to address a regime cannot be considered by the medical marijuana exceptions. We have seen an emergence of a rights based approach, the rights to grow a small amount of cannabis.

It is apparent there is big business concern and its bodies continue to support treaties. So I believe this new medical marijuana is creating an escape valve, treating bodies to not address the error which is the classification of marijuana, and to refuse to front the deep social issues. In terms of international law challenges there are some fears about the international paradigm, since international law and treaty instruments they ride their authority for consensus, the fact so many nations and Uruguay, can have already moved from these, it undermines their authority, a theoretical and academic argument.

Small vulnerable developing countries do not have the political clout like Canada, they do not need a fearful treaty to survive, so we recommend CARICOM to form a regional position and have a persuasive voice to part with like-minded companies to have a clear roadmap to lobby for change to these treaties, and an important opportunity for change. For the long term I am convinced treaties must change and, big business interests can no longer be ignored, deja vu a lot longer than I thought. We must protect our hegemony. The emerging trend is for government to be influenced by treaties as well as big business, with wide agenda for reforms turning a blind eye to specific industries. Ultimately we call for a broad approach rather than one narrowly focused on medical marijuana and big business.

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