Caribbean nation Saint Vincent and the Grenadines has moved a step closer to legalizing cannabis after a leading politician sent a trio of bills to a select committee. The prime minister, the minister of health, and the opposition leader are among the prominent lawmakers who will now consider whether to regulate marijuana for medicinal use.

The country’s government has been mulling over The Medicinal Cannabis Industry Bill, the Cannabis Cultivation (Amnesty) Bill and the Permitted Use of Cannabis for Religious Purpose Bill. First readings took place this week and agriculture and forestry minister, Saboto Caesar, has just sent the bills off to the committee of leaders.

Prime minister Ralph Gonsalves hopes to usurp Jamaica as the regional leader in the field and attract domestic and foreign investment in the trade.

Saint Vincent is blessed with rich, volcanic soil that is perfect for cannabis cultivation, and farmers have been growing it on the island since the 1970s. It’s the nation’s most valuable agricultural product and it’s second only to Jamaica in the list of the Caribbean’s largest marijuana producers. However, it remains illegal in all forms across the country. But there is an appetite among lawmakers to change that, particularly as Canadian firm PACE Developments is said to be keen on offering medical marijuana treatment when it completes a resort it’s building on the island.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is unlikely to permit cannabis for recreational use any time soon, but it realizes the economic benefits of capitalizing on medical marijuana tourism and exports. “Unregulated consumption of recreational marijuana poses a number of risks and challenges that we do not currently have the data on which to make informed decisions, or the capacity to manage effectively,” said finance minister Camillo Gonsalves in his latest Budget announcement.

He admits that there is a “divergence of views” among the country’s politicians and its citizens over how much it should champion this burgeoning industry. Prime minister Ralph Gonsalves hopes to usurp Jamaica as the regional leader in the field and attract domestic and foreign investment in the trade. The New Democratic Party, the main opposition party, is all for it too, but it wants to ensure that locals reap the benefits.

Introducing a new law is never a straightforward process and there’s plenty of red tape to wade through. Cannabis growers have been granted an amnesty from prosecution that runs until July 31, 2019, and they hope to be granted cultivation licenses when the details of the new law are ironed out. There’s no definitive timeline for when the select committee will make its decision, but experts in the country expect the bills to be passed into law in the not too distant future.

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