Premier and Minister for Finance Hon. Andrew Fahie disclosed that North American companies have shown interest in the Territory’s medical marijuana industry and 40 farmers are expected to be trained as the Territory moves forward with this proposed revenue injector. These details were presented during the Standing Finance Committee (SFC) deliberations of the 2020 budget estimates.
During the SFC meeting the Premier disclosed that companies from Canada and the United States of America have made presentations to the Government regarding the proposed medical marijuana sector. Additionally, the Premier noted that research was carried out to detect a specific strand of marijuana that can be grown in the Territory and that research also indicated how the farmlands can be used to grow it as well as how local persons can be involved in the process.
Hon. Fahie told legislators that approximately 40 acres of land in Paraquita Bay will be used to grow medical marijuana and at a minimum, there will be 40 farmers who will be trained in how to grow this special strand of marijuana. It was mentioned that the Territory would need to create a lab to test the medicinal marijuana that is grown in order to meet international standards.
In further explaining the need for the lab Hon. Fahie explained that the medical marijuana must be tested by a lab separate to the entity that will be growing the marijuana to independently verify its quality. According to the Premier the lab that would be established will be the only one of its kind in the Caribbean and will also look at the testing of other parts of the hemp for medicinal purposes.
The Minister for Finance told the SFC that the revenue projected for the medical marijuana initiative are much higher than what is currently listed within the budget. He said that a more conservative figure has been included in the budget given the constraints of this new revenue generating measure.
Fourth District Representative, Hon. Mark Vanterpool in response to the Premier’ presentation questioned the BVI Leader about the five million dollars from medical marijuana that is projected for in the first year. The Representative asked the Premier if the Government would be collecting the revenue for this initiative via taxes or if the Government would be involved in the sale of the marijuana.
In response the Premier stated that the Government will be doing a mixture of both. He said that the Government will be selling to collect revenue and taxes. He explained that the farmers will be allowed to set up businesses and noted that when that happens, the Government will be involved with the sale of the marijuana and the taxes.
Following that response, Hon. Vanterpool sought further clarification on how the Government will be involved in the collection of revenue from the medicinal marijuana initiative and was told that the projected breakdown of revenue to be collected is as follows: Farmers – 5 percent, Retail – 20%, and Taxes/Import – 20%.
Meanwhile, Minister for Health and Social Development Hon. Carvin Malone noted that the correct lingo must be used when referring to this initiative so as to indicate that the Government has not entered the marijuana business. Hon. Malone further clarified that it should be noted that the Government will be involved in the sale of medicinal marijuana products.
Medical Marijuana Profitability Questioned
While the Government is touting that the medical marijuana is a part of the suite of economic diversification strategies the Opposition has stated that the industry is not going to be very profitable.
The misgiving was disclosed to the media by Leader of the Opposition Hon. Marlon Penn during a press conference held on December 16. Hon. Penn said, “The issue of medical marijuana…it sounds good its sexy and it’s a good term. St Vincent is doing it, Jamaica is doing it, St Thomas is doing it. When you look at the dollars and cents there is no real revenue being earned from these Territories with medical marijuana; to date and they have been at it much longer than we have to the point now where St Thomas is even thinking of doing it for recreational use. They realize for it to be viable they have to expand on what they are doing.”
The Opposition Leader added, “We have to have a strategic vision for how we want to move the country and the economy forward not these old pies in the sky dreams. The old fancy clichés — we going green, we going this and that, without the numbers to back up what it means to us as a Territory. We are talking about going green and all these fancy things with medical marijuana but there is no money in agriculture to do anything to barely pay the staff let alone expand medical marijuana. There is no money in the Premier’s Office for any of these special projects to do all these things that we are talking about.”