NEWS
Caribbean Islands Are Giving Illegal Weed Growers a Chance to Go Legit
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Not only are the islands of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines offering illegal pot growers a chance to transition into the legal weed industry, they are also allowing legal weed businesses to open bank accounts.
Published on March 10, 2020

The tiny nation of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is preparing to open its new medical marijuana market, joining the growing wave of cannabis reform that’s recently swept the Caribbean.

The multi-island country, which comprises the main island of Saint Vincent and other smaller islands in the Lesser Antilles, just launched its new medical marijuana program at the beginning of this month. The program, which was legalized by the country's House of Assembly in 2018, allows businesses to grow, process, transport, and sell medical cannabis. Licensed businesses will also be allowed to conduct marijuana research and export medical cannabis to other countries.

Last summer, Saint Vincent awarded 34 medical marijuana business licenses. The first ten went to international companies with board members from Canada, Europe, Africa, and other Caribbean countries. The remaining 24 licenses went to farming cooperatives or individual farmers. The country's Medicinal Cannabis Authority (MCA) is planning to offer hundreds of additional licenses, however.

The MCA has made the unusual choice of inviting illegal weed cultivators to take part in the legal medical marijuana market. The country offers an amnesty program that will allow any illicit weed grower to “surrender their crop or harvest upon the issuance of a traditional cultivation license,” Cannabis Wire reports. Growers who do not agree to this program face prosecution under the state's existing cannabis prohibition laws.

Saint Vincent is one of the Caribbean's largest illegal weed producers, second per-capita only to Jamaica. Instead of attempting to destroy this illicit market by brute force — a plan that has failed in US adult-use states — the island nation is giving local farmers a chance to go legal and make money by exporting their medical cannabis to other countries.

In another unusual move, the country will allow medical cannabis businesses to open accounts at the state-owned Bank of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. These bank accounts will allow pot companies to accept investments and complete transactions with foreign investors and businesses. Local businesses will not be able to deal with US firms, however, as the US government continues to prohibit financial institutions from handling funds related to controlled substances.

“Banking is an important pillar of building a sustainable industry,” said Jerrol Thompson, CEO of the MCA, according to Cannabis Wire. “We are the only Caribbean island that has been able to establish a firm basis in terms of banking, which would allow licensees to move money and do business legitimately, between Canada, Europe, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.”

Saint Vincent's medical marijuana program is part of a broader move to bring legal weed to the Caribbean. Jamaica recently legalized medical marijuana and has been constantly expanding its local weed industry ever since. Last year, Barbados began drafting regulations for its new medical marijuana program, and a judge in the islands of Saint Kitts and Nevis ruled that personal cannabis use was legal for any adult.

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Chris Moore
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Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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