A Changing Climate may hasten prescriptive change

(by Steve Maximay)

The Winds of Change that swept through the U.S. states of Colorado and Washington are being mimicked by sweeping changes in the rainfall patterns in the Caribbean.

Tis an ill wind that blows no good, climate change and marijuana cultivation for all they portend can be the fillips we need to get our nutrition security and environmental protection in order. The Caribbean has been dealing with a triumvirate of pressures viz. economic, environmental and social.

The Windward Islands are under pressure from declining banana exports, there are well-documented cases of extreme weather events, and drought conditions that are all exacerbated by rising criminal activity.

Over the last year I have had to work around the intersects of climate change impacts, climate-smart agriculture, illegal marijuana cultivation in watersheds, failing commodity value chains and unexplored opportunities in intellectual property. Right smack in the middle of all these issues is a sense that we have missed the big wave and it’s already high tide.

It is actually so ironic that in a small nation like St Vincent and the Grenadines all of these issues are centre stage. The decline in banana growing has been spectacular. In 2005 there was a grower base of 2000 banana farmers exporting through WINFRESH, by 2013 that had shrunk to 73 growers. The December 24 weather event wrought 156 million Eastern Caribbean dollars worth of damage and illegal marijuana cultivation is being forced further into watershed areas.

In the search for viable agricultural value chains it seems logical to look at the legal cultivation of medicinal marijuana. St Vincent has not been proactive in the branding of its better known products such as arrowroot and breadfruit, and has not explored the opportunities for Geographical Indications that would make its produce distinctive.

A Geographical Indication is a seal of exclusivity bequeathed on a product because of its unique features that are ascribable to the particular geographical area. The most famous example is the exclusive use of the term Champagne, for sparkling wines made from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France.

The tiny nation boasts several famous scientists amongst sons of the soil. Dr Albert Lockhart was born in St Vincent and received his secondary education at the Boys Grammar School. Dr Lockhart, an ophthalmologist, is credited as part of the two-man team that developed Canasol, the cannabis-based, psychoactive-chemical-free medication that relieves intraocular pressure symptoms associated with late-stage glaucoma.

Asmasol, another derivative drug used in the treatment of asthma, was first formulated by the other member of the Team.

In early 2014, then CARICOM chairman, St Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves led a regional call to decriminalise the use of Cannabis sativa for medicinal purposes and place the matter on the Inter-sessional agenda for discussions. If a paper commissioned in late 2013 by the Secretariat is to be believed, then most CARICOM States are “party to a number of International instruments that seek to regulate/control the use of narcotic substances including the following:

  • The United Nations (UN) Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961);
  • The UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances (1971); and
  • The UN Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (1988).

Cannabis (Marijuana) is identified as a controlled substance on Schedule IV of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961). Schedule IV (the most restrictive) is the category of drugs, such as heroin, that are considered to have “particularly dangerous properties” in comparison to other drugs. According to Article 2 of the Single Convention “the drugs in Schedule IV shall also be included in Schedule I and subject to all measures of control applicable to drugs in the latter Schedule” as well as whatever “special measures of control”; each Party deems necessary.

The Member States identify “cannabis” as a dangerous drug pursuant to their respective dangerous Drugs Acts with the consequent provision for fines and/or imprisonment. However, there are moves afoot outside of the region to utilise the Convention provisions that “the medical use of narcotic drugs continues to be indispensable for the relief of pain and suffering and that adequate provision must be made to ensure the availability of narcotic drugs for such purposes”.

“Articles 1, 2, 4, 9, 12, 19, and 49 contain provisions relating to ‘medical and scientific’ use of controlled substances. In almost all cases, parties are permitted to allow dispensation and use of controlled substances under a prescription, subject to record-keeping requirements and other restrictions.”

It is conceivable that in the not too distant future the region will be importing Cannabis-based products that could have been produced locally. In this era of sea level rise we are once again going to miss the rising tide because we fail to put our intellectual prowess to work.

We sat arms raised in meek protest when a “science-based marketing programme” was used to render the nascent Dominica coconut oil industry a stillborn casualty of the cholesterol bogey. Only to verify, post mortem, that indeed coconut oil is “full of the good cholesterol”.

St Vincent is also the birthplace of Professor Leonard O’Garro one of the region’s biotechnology luminaries. I am not convinced that we fully appreciate what we can accomplish in terms of engineering crops, with more of the “desirable” phyto-chemical constituents that would put us ahead of the cresting wave. We have been weaned on the export of a raw input that is eventually sold to us as a processed higher value product.

Examples of this inability to be proactive include less than perfect utilisation of “Trinitario” cocoa and chocolate manufacture and sourcing “heart-smart” edible oils from bioengineered “canola”. I challenge the reader to describe the “canola” plant that is the source of this oil. Our continued inaction or tokenistic late reaction will add credence to the perception that our Region is ripe for bio-prospecting.

Fortuitously, Jamaican entrepreneur Professor Henry Lowe launched a business venture in Medical Marijuana in December 2013. He opined that the Caribbean should not be left behind in this potentially lucrative business. The region may wish to therefore explore any commercial benefit from a potential multi-billion dollar industry including Research and Development and also production of Medicinal Marijuana products.

I am convinced that countries like St Vincent and the Grenadines that have been swimming against the tide will find the legislative room to develop medical marijuana based value chains.

It is difficult to imagine a climate-smart agriculture coexisting with the so-called criminal “upper upper” marijuana production that threatens Forestry Officers, water management, and viable land tenure arrangements. We need only review the organisations with the foresight that benefitted from the repeal of the US Prohibition Act to verify that there are tides in the affairs of men.

Steve Maximay is a prominent regional consultant on Climate-smart Agriculture, Intellectual Property, Agricultural Value Chains and Agro-Tourism.




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