Medical marijuana production can begin in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines after the Caribbean nation issued its first set of cultivation licences.

The country legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes in December 2018 and leaders promised to create a major international hub within the blossoming global cannabis trade. It officially said it was decriminalizing cannabis “for medical purposes and scientific research”, but it essentially legalized it, promising to create jobs and generate huge economic benefits.

The Ministry for Agriculture has been working on a framework for cannabis cultivation ever since then. The Rastafarian community, religious leaders, agricultural businesses, civil servants, legal experts, and industrialists all aided the extensive consultation process, while external experts from Trinidad and Tobago also helped.

Saboto Caesar, Minister of Agriculture and Industry, said it has been the most challenging yet gratifying period of his career. But he said the country is only just getting started.

“It is our mission in St Vincent and the Grenadines to create a globally certified industry aimed at supplying medicinal cannabis products, targeting ailments based on evidence from clinical studies,” added Caesar. “The mantra is and will continue to be a successful medicinal cannabis industry begins and ends with science.”

He pointed to recent initiatives such as the construction of Argyle International Airport, obtaining a seat as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council and expanding its food production and health infrastructure as evidence of its potential to succeed within the competitive global marijuana industry.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines has rich, volcanic soil that is perfect for cannabis cultivation. It has been grown there since the 1970s and it is the nation’s most valuable agricultural product, despite its previous illegality.

It is second only to Jamaica in the list of the largest marijuana producers in the Caribbean, and there is already plenty of local expertise across the country. It has the potential to become a significant player in the global trade, given its proximity to North America and cheaper labour costs.

Cannabis growers were given an amnesty from prosecution until July 31, 2019, after medical marijuana was legalized towards the end of last year. The process to award them cultivation licences is now underway.

The government has promised to ensure that growers meet high standards in environmental protection, safety and general corporate responsibility.