NO home-grown cannabis should be sold commercially, says the report of the joint select committee (JSC) on the Cannabis Control Bill laid last Wednesday in the House of Representatives.
However, one cannabis proponent questioned this restriction on Monday.
After the decriminalisation of cannabis for personal use by the Dangerous Drugs Act 2019, the Cannabis Control Bill 2020 for regulating a local cannabis industry was introduced to the House last October and sent to a JSC.
The JSC report amended the bill to say a licence to commercially grown cannabis cannot be awarded for "a dwelling house" namely any premises "used and occupied as a place of residence" including complementary outbuildings and adjacent land.
The report also bans the sale of cannabis allocated for religious purposes by way of a $10,000 fine and six months’ jail.
The bill also imposes a $10,000 fine and six months’ jail if someone uses medical marijuana without a doctor's prescription (on summary conviction) or $100,000 fine and ten years jail (on indictable conviction).
The report does not specify the cost of the licence fee for growers but leaves this to be decided by a cannabis licensing authority
Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi told Newsday on Monday that people were free to offer their comments on the JSC's report which itself would be debated in both Houses of Parliament, so he did not want to pre-empt this process by commenting too much.
He said the report was unanimous and was the product of significant consultations. In reply to queries from Newsday, Al-Rawi said, "Don't jump to conclusions."
Cannabis advocate Nazma Muller told Newsday on Monday she welcomed the committee's reversal of the bill's original denial of a grower's licence to anyone with a past conviction for growing cannabis. However she otherwise thought the bill lacked empathy with cannabis users.
On the hefty fine for an unauthorised person using medical marijuana, Muller scoffed,"Who exactly is to determine if cannabis is a medicine for my anxiety or not?"
Muller did not agree with penalisation of the sale of religious cannabis.
"I want to see Rastafarians allowed to be in the commercial space. You can't differentiate. They should be allowed to benefit. If you are producing it, why not be able to sell it?"
She said the bill and the report had failed to grab the opportunity to grow a cannabis industry locally as an economic engine for Trinidad and Tobago's post-covid19 economic rebound.
"The bill must allow home grown," she urged. "It must let in people who do not have the capital for a commercial scale."
Saying Jamaica was now starting to let small growers get licensed, she implored that all citizens in TT enjoy unrestricted access to enter the industry, especially to provide employment amid what she termed the country’s dire economic state with the current covid19 restrictions.
Muller asked that small growers be allowed to have their quality control testing (as required under the bill) done at a nominal cost.
"You can't charge thousands of dollars to test just a little piece of weed. Testing must be less punitive and more collaborative."
She urged the licence fees for growers be done in three tiers, for big (over ten acres), medium (five to ten acres) and small (one to five acres) operators.
Muller hoped for commercial help for local cannabis entrepreneurs.
"If not, we'll see known large foreign multinationals swoop down here and demolish the small man. The small farmer will have to go and work for them for a small wage.
"Let people be part of a co-operative. Involve as many as possible." She urged that any firm that is licensed have a majority local ownership.
Muller said TT can open up an intellectual property market in cannabis. "We have some real super-breeders in TT. There's such a huge market."
She said a cottage industry in cannabis could give rise to "artisanal weed" – highly sought out by foreign consumers – not just the usual commercial strains.
"Let us support the rastaman from Moruga."
She said she hoped to hear the term "fair trade" being used in talks of commercial cannabis.
She said the sector now needed support by way of access roads and business loans.
"This is a train we must get on.
"Yet in the one and a half years since decriminalisation, the police have burnt over $1 billion worth of ganja."