After many delays, lawmakers in Trinidad and Tobago released their plans to legalize and regulate cannabis for medical, research, and religious purposes.
The bill establishes a legislative framework for the Cannabis Licensing Authority of Trinidad and Tobago, the body that would govern licenses for the cultivation, distribution, sale, import, and export of medicinal cannabis.
The committee, a small joint parliamentary committee, and composed of members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, was established to consider the Cannabis Control Bill, which was first introduced by the country's Attorney General. , Faris Al-Rawi, in 2019. Committee members cited "the complexity of the bill" and the need to engage in "consultations with the cannabis authorities in the region" to explain the long delay. The legislative group, therefore, recommended that a list of 25 amendments be made to the draft law on control.
The main recommendation is to focus on regulatory compliance and transparency within the industry. The amended bill also includes a special category of licenses, which would govern the cultivation, distribution, and transportation of cannabis for religious purposes.
Nonetheless, reform advocates have expressed concern about some recommendations, including the penalties proposed in the bill for licensees who fail to comply with the law or with their license conditions. They could be subject to heavy fines and jail time.
Given privacy concerns, campaigners are also uncomfortable with the recommendation that the Authority should establish and maintain a public register of license holders. Activists are also concerned that the amended bill still falls short on social justice for those affected by cannabis prohibition and have called for policies that would ensure that the groups most heavily affected can participate in the emerging industry.
One point, however, was missed in the final report: the licenses would be open to people who have already been charged under the country's dangerous drugs law and who have since successfully requested that their convictions be cleared. Previous interpretations of the bill excluded this group from participation.
The central idea behind the committee's recommendations is "clear," according to Al Rawi, who chaired the committee. What makes the law relevant to citizens and necessary for the future of Trinidad and Tobago, said Al Rawi, is to "make sure that we diversify our economy."
“This cannabis control bill is great news for us,” he said, “because it will introduce the concept of marketing from seed to product. "
According to Al Rawi, the focus on compliance and transparency is aimed at enabling licensees to rely heavily on "the availability of genetic patents and plant varieties under the country's intellectual property laws" to carve out a place for itself in this nascent industry. The laws of Trinidad and Tobago, such as the Plant Variety Protection Law and Patents, as well as the Laws on Copyright, Geographical Indications and Trademarks, have long been used by international companies. to obtain rights to trademarks and patents before transferring them to countries such as members of the European Union and the United States.
At the same time, the committee did not recommend an amendment to one of the most controversial provisions of the bill, which allows foreign nationals to become majority shareholders in companies licensed by the Authority. As it is currently worded, the bill allows up to 70% foreign ownership in local cannabis companies, one of the highest participation quotas in the region.
Activists, such as Nazma Muller, who favor stronger local representation, want the limits to be similar to Jamaica, which limits foreign ownership in cannabis companies to 49%.
Stricter ownership arrangements will secure indigenous farmers' rights and give locals greater control over the nascent industry, according to Nazma Muller, a Trinidadian cannabis legalization activist. Reducing foreign ownership, activists say, will protect the industry from future shocks to the global market - such as those that have prompted several Canadian cannabis companies to divest from the region in order to save money - while creating more. jobs and investment opportunities at the national level.
“We don't want international companies to come out with their pocket money and take over our industry,” Nazma Muller said in an interview with Cannabis Wire. Without provisions that encourage and protect local ownership, "it looks like the industry in Trinidad and Tobago is just going to be auctioned off for whoever has the money to come."
Nazma Muller also argues that regulators must provide clearer pathways for smallholders, or for those exiting the illegal market, by creating micro-licenses for cultivation and processing, such as licenses under $ 1,000 in Jamaica. intended specifically for indigenous operators.
In this regard, Mr. Al Rawi believes that the wording of the bill, which requires local ownership of at least 30% of all licenses granted, with the exception of research and development and laboratory licenses, will limit the problems highlighted by critics of the legislation. He says, however, that if Trinidad and Tobago is to be competitive in the export of its cannabis and plant-derived products, large foreign players may have the necessary expertise.
"We accept that there are big players around the industry who would like to come," said Al-Rawi, arguing that if the industry is to be developed for export to the international market, it must be done “in a safe environment where you don't struggle with bacteria, mold and mildew and where you actually produce high quality, premium varieties”.
Several civil society groups, such as All Mansions of Rastafari , say the recommendations fail to create space in the industry for people historically affected by prohibition.
The next stage of the bill will take place in the coming weeks, when the House of Representatives debates and votes the adoption of all or part of the committee's recommendations, and amends the Cannabis Control Bill accordingly. If approved, the bill will go to the Senate.