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Only a third of fees for ganja licences collected in St Vincent and the Grenadines

Only five to six million dollars of the 15 to 16 million dollars that authorities in St Vincent and the Grenadines have approved for medical marijuana licences have reached the state coffers.

Kingstown, St Vincent.

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves who made the disclosure last week admitted that some companies that have been approved licences have been tardy in paying up. The Prime Minister’s comment comes came just over a month after Minister of Finance Camillo Gonsalves told a rally to mark the 25th anniversary of the ruling Unity Labour Party, that the country “has earned already” $15 million in ganja cultivation licence fees.

The finance minister said he had asked Minister of Agriculture, Saboto Caesar, last year, about his projections for the first year of the industry. The finance minister said Caesar told him the industry had just started and he was anticipating about $5 million.

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves (Photo: caricom.org)

“Already this year, five million dollars, we gone past that; $10 million, we gone past that; $15 million Saboto Caesar has earned already in licence fees from the medical cannabis industry, and we are just getting started,” the Finance Minister told thousands of persons that had gathered at the decommissioned ET Joshua Airport in Arnos Vale.

“One of the problems is this; Some entities which have received licences, some overseas entities, and the value of the licences issued thus far is about $15 to 16 million but we haven’t collected that. We have collected about 5 to 6 million.”

– Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves

Prime Minister Gonsalves’ explanation

However, speaking on Hot 97 FM in the twin-island eastern Caribbean country last Tuesday, Prime Minister Gonsalves sought to explain the short fall in collections from ganja cultivation licence.

According to Gonsalves, “one of the problems is this; Some entities which have received licences, some overseas entities, and the value of the licences issued thus far is about $15 to 16 million but we haven’t collected that. We have collected about 5 to 6 million. The reason being you can’t pay the money in US dollars. No bank will touch it because of the federal government regulations and you don’t want Bank of America or Bank of New York not to give you corresponding banking relationship.”

Local banks, including the Bank of St Vincent and the Grenadines, have a corresponding banking relationship with the Bank of America and Bank of New York.

Banking issues

The Prime Minister explained that banks in St Vincent and the Grenadines, like the Bank of St Vincent and the Grenadines, which have corresponding banking relationships with Bank of America and Bank of New York are very careful how they process monies coming for medical marijuana licences.

“If they are paid in Canadian dollars through Canadian Dominion and Canadian Dominion accepts money in Canada, I have been advised, from the medical cannabis industry so they don’t mind transmitting the money for you if the cheque issued in US dollars,” Gonsalves further explained.

He went on to state “so, some licences have been issued and people are ready to pay the money but they have to go through a particular route, so all those arrangements.”

According to the St Vincent and the Grenadine Prime Minister, “there are some local people who have arrangements with some from overseas but who can’t operate properly yet because they don’t have in their hands, even though their license is issued, the licence is issued on the condition that you pay this money, but if the money ain’t reach the Medical Cannabis Authority, you don’t have the licence for operational purposes.”

Accelerating medical cannabis industry

In the meantime, St Vincent and the Grenadines is to accelerate the development of its medicinal cannabis industry. Having established its own Medicinal Cannabis Authority (MCA) in 2018, the authorities there have issued licences to traditional cannabis farmers to legitimise the cultivation of the crop.

Since then the twin-island state has recruited Jamaican Dr André Gordon, Chief Executive Officer of the Jamaican firm, TSL Technical Services Limited (TTSL), to train the farmers and to assist in the upgrading of the capabilities of the technical officers attached to the country’s MCA.

Dr Andre Gordon of Jamaica’s Cannabis Licensing Authority

Widely regarded as an expert in the field, Dr Gordon is the founding Chair of Jamaica’s Cannabis Licensing Authority, the pioneer in the Caribbean for medicinal cannabis, in addition to being an expert in international trade, standards, regulatory compliance and analytical testing. He is expected to provide advice to the St Vincent and the Grenadines government on all these areas of expertise.

The government has been hosting training sessions for the country’s traditional cannabis growers with a focus on international production standards, introduced in the country by Dr Gordon. Sessions on Good Agricultural and Collection Practices (GACP) which are part of the training were designed to familiarise participants with global best practices and offer an outline for operating within the framework of GACP.

Dr Gordon has also been providing intensive training for the MCA staff in GACP and Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) standards and has also been providing consultation to licensees on the design and construction of their production facilities.

The training is part of an ongoing process which started early last year, prior to the creation of the MCA and involves, among other things, guidance in the structuring and rollout of the regulations governing the overall functioning of the industry. This also includes the design and setting up of an analytical capability and training of a technical team, extension officers and inspectorate at the MCA in good agricultural and manufacturing practices.