Week in Review: The Bahamas Moves to Legalize Cannabis

In this week’s cannabis news round-up, Bahamas government introduces bill to legalize medical and religious use of cannabis; more American adults see cannabis as safer than alcohol and cigarettes; medical cannabis sales increase as pot prices decline; and Maria Sakkari disturbed by cannabis odor during us open.

PHOTO Cristofer Maximilian

Bahamian Government Introduces Bill to Legalize Medical and Religious Use of Cannabis

New legislation has been introduced in The Bahamas to legalize cannabis for medical and religious applications and to decriminalize the possession of small quantities of cannabis. Individuals found with less than an ounce of cannabis not intended for medical or religious use would face a $250 fine rather than criminal charges.

The proposed law outlines that licenses for cultivation, retail, transportation and religious usage would exclusively be granted to Bahamian-owned companies. Licenses for research, testing and manufacturing would require at least 30% Bahamian ownership. The island nation’s government plans to establish an agency to oversee the industry; Attorney General Ryan Pinder has previously indicated that cannabis for religious use would only be allowed to be smoked within licensed organizations’ premises.

Similar cannabis policy reforms have been undertaken by other Caribbean nations. In 2018, Antigua and Barbuda legalized medical cannabis and in June, Rastafari members were authorized to grow and consume cannabis due to their sacred beliefs. Jamaica has also decriminalized small-scale cannabis possession.


Gallup Poll: More Americans See Cannabis As Safer Than Alcohol and Cigarettes, as Cannabis Use Exceeds Tobacco Smoking

A recent Gallup poll revealed that Americans now believe cannabis is less risky than alcohol, cigarettes, vapes and other tobacco products. The data indicates that cannabis use has exceeded cigarette consumption in the US, as adults are increasingly moving away from cigarettes due to growing awareness of their health risks. At the same time, attitudes toward cannabis are shifting, with decreasing perceptions of harm as more states legalize its use and more adults identify as users.

Participants of the poll were questioned about seven substances and their perceived levels of harm: “very,” “somewhat” or “not too/not at all.” The findings show that approximately 40% of respondents view cannabis as “not too” or “not at all” harmful. This is in stark contrast to cigarettes, with only four percent considering them relatively harmless and alcohol, where just 16% share this sentiment. On the other hand, 23% see cannabis as “very harmful,” compared to 76% for cigarettes, 54% for e-cigarettes, 39% for cigars and 30% for alcohol.


Arkansas: Medical Cannabis Sales Increase as Weed Prices Decline

The cost of medical cannabis in Arkansas has decreased, with the price per pound dropping from $5,466 in 2022 to $4,545 in June, according to data from the Arkansas Department of Finance & Administration (DFA). In 2021, the average pound price was $6,565.

In 2022, Arkansas’ medical cannabis dispensaries saw an average monthly sale of 4,212 pounds, reaching 5,149 pounds in June. The state law limits the number of dispensaries to 40.

April’s report revealed that Arkansas witnessed a 7.14% increase in medical cannabis sales in the first quarter of this year compared to the same period in 2022, based on DFA data.

In 2022, medical cannabis sales hit a record high at $276 million, a 4.3% increase from the previous year’s $264 million. Sales for this year are projected to surpass both 2021 and 2022, with over $140 million recorded in the first half of 2023, according to state data.

Maria Sakkari
Photo courtesy of Maria Sakkari

Maria Sakkari Disturbed by Cannabis Odor During US Open Defeat

Maria Sakkari, the No. 8 seed tennis player from Greece, faced an unexpected distraction during her first-round match at the US Open in New York City: the smell of cannabis on the court.

Sakkari reportedly noticed the smell during a changeover when she was leading 4-1 in the first set against Rebeka Masarova. She attributed the smell to a nearby park and reportedly also noticing it during her practice on the same court the day before.

“Sometimes you smell food, sometimes you smell cigarettes, sometimes you smell weed,” Sakkari said. “I mean, it’s something we cannot control, because we’re in an open space. There’s a park behind. People can do whatever they want.”

However, Sakkari says that the odor didn’t impact her focus or performance during the match, in what became her third straight first-round exit in a Grand Slam tournament.

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Bahamas Considers Weed Legalization for Religious, Medical Use

Government officials in the Bahamas last week introduced a number of measures that would dramatically change the country’s marijuana laws, including one proposal that would legalize cannabis for religious and medical purposes.

The Associated Press reports that the Bahamian government introduced “several bills” aimed at marijuana reform. One, according to the AP, would decriminalize possession of small amounts of pot.

More from the Associated Press on the proposals:

“If approved, those caught with less than 30 grams (one ounce) of marijuana would pay a $250 fine and the incident would not appear on their criminal record. Buying marijuana for recreational purposes would remain illegal. Officials said licenses for cultivation, retail, transport and religious use would only be granted to companies that are entirely Bahamian owned. Licenses for research, testing and manufacturing would be awarded to companies that are at least 30% Bahamian owned.”

According to the online resource Cannigma, laws in the Bahamas ban “recreational use, and those who are caught doing so face the possibility of severe monetary fines and lengthy imprisonment.”

The website explains that the country “enacted laws against marijuana usage with the passing of the Dangerous Drugs Act in 1929,” and that in the early 1960s, the Bahamas “expanded their definition of illegal marijuana usage to include hemp products and substances containing CBD. 

“Bahamas marijuana laws remained much unchanged until January 2018 when the Caribbean Community Regional Commission held a town hall meeting on the possibility of decriminalizing cannabis. A governmental committee was established to consult with Bahamas’ citizens on their views regarding the country’s future marijuana laws and policies,” Cannigma explained. “In May 2021, following the publication of the committee’s findings, a preliminary bill of updated Bahamas marijuana laws was leaked to the press. The latest bill calls for the legalization of medical marijuana. Similar to Thailand, the current Bahamas government is looking to spur the local economy by allowing local farmers to cultivate the crop and sell it to local medical institutions and cannabis dispensaries.”

The move for reform by the Bahamas comes more than two months after another Carribean government, the country of Antigua and Barbuda, became the first country in the region to permit Rastafari to cultivate and consume marijuana. 

“We’re more free now,” said Ras Tashi, a member of the Ras Freeman Foundation for the Unification of Rastafari.

Marijuana –– or “ganja,” as it is called in Jamaica and other parts of the Caribbean –– plays a sacred role in Rastafarian culture. 

As the Associated Press explained back in 2021

“The Rastafari faith is rooted in 1930s Jamaica, growing as a response by Black people to white colonial oppression. The beliefs are a melding of Old Testament teachings and a desire to return to Africa. Rastafari followers believe the use of marijuana is directed in biblical passages and that the ‘holy herb’ induces a meditative state. The faithful smoke it as a sacrament in chalice pipes or cigarettes called ‘spliffs,’ add it to vegetarian stews and place it in fires as a burnt offering.”

Rastafari had lobbied for marijuana legalization for years, with many of their adherents jailed and punished by law enforcement as a result of the practice.

“We believe that we have to provide a space for everyone at the table, irrespective of their religion,” Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said. “Just as we’ve recognized other faiths, it’s absolutely important for us to also ensure that the Rastafari faith is also acknowledged … to acknowledge their constitutional right to worship and to utilize cannabis as a sacrament.”

Other countries in the Caribbean have also taken steps toward marijuana reform. 

Marijuana has been decriminalized in Jamaica, where earlier this year government officials discussed providing more support for the country’s small-scale cannabis farmers.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Virgin Islands “authorized the recreational and sacramental use of marijuana for anyone 21 and older, joining several nations across the socially conservative Caribbean that have relaxed their cannabis laws,” the Associated Press reported in January.

“We are bringing the opportunities to you, but you must also do your part to seize these opportunities,” Albert Bryan Jr., the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands said after signing the bill into law at the time.

“It is my goal to make sure many of us who have been negatively impacted by the criminalization of cannabis are afforded every opportunity to participate in this new and legal cannabis industry,” Bryan added.

The new law allows “those 21 and older to possess up to 2 ounces of marijuana, a half ounce of concentrate and 1 ounce of products such as edibles for recreational, sacramental and other uses,” according to the Associated Press.

The U.S. Virgin Islands had already legalized medical marijuana in 2019.

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We Need to Chill Out About Categorizing ‘Medical’ Versus ‘Recreational’

I used to wake up in the middle of the night, every night, with a nightmare. In it, my body was frozen, and trigger warning: In the nightmare, I was fading in and out of unconscious, but someone was raping me. They were textbook PTSD nightmares, and I had no idea what to do about them.

I was raised in the Caribbean, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, surrounded by ganja culture. While millennial “statesiders” my age I’d meet later when I moved to the South for school and then New York for my forever home, I realized that my childhood was different. Far from the “Just Say No” and D.A.R.E rhetoric my contemporaries experienced, many of my friend’s parents were Rastafarians. I grew up understanding that cannabis was a sacrament. So I spent high school, during the Bush era, on the debate team arguing for its legalization, and college majoring in journalism, reporting on cannabis. I’ve always been vehemently pro-legalization. But the reason cannabis didn’t become a big part of my personal life until a decade ago, in 2013, was because I was a total boozehound. 

But alcohol made my PTSD stemming from my assault worse. Sometimes, back in the day, to be perfectly honest, it made me downright nasty or even suicidal. So my ambition kicked in, having seen what alcoholism can do to others (it runs in my family), and I quit. I haven’t had a drink in 10 years. I’ve been Cali Sober since before the term existed, baby. 

So, a few years into sobriety, when a stoner close to my heart told me that people used cannabis to treat anxiety, PTSD and that THC could even suppress nightmares, at first, I was skeptical. Sure, it should be legal, just like alcohol, and the government is full of shit, but would it affect me like liquor did? Personally, 12-Step programs did more harm than good. I’m a big believer that a one-size-fits-all model is not suitable for recovery, something society finally seems ready to talk about.

Especially in the first few years after my assault, I needed to be shaken and reminded of my power — which had been robbed from me — instead of admitting I was powerless, which is, in so many words, the first step of AA. I’m glad the program works for many, including people I love, and I won’t even get into the fact that its founder, Bill W., fully embraced psychedelics at the end of his life, adamant that they could treat alcoholism. Because this story is about why recreational use and medical use have more overlap than the establishment makes them out to.

When I first quit drinking shortly after my assault, I was a shell of my former self. I’d accept invitations to parties only to turn around at the door, back to the safety of my apartment, as my social anxiety was so bad even small talk was terrifying. I should add that I was prescribed a very high level of benzodiazepines, which I’m not against on principle, they have their time and place, but as anyone who’s weaned off them knows, they also have their downfalls (quite serious, benzo withdrawal can cause seizure or even death). So after doing my research and realizing that cannabis could not only quell nightmares, help me better inhabit my body, and treat social anxiety, but had a lower side effect profile than benzos, and was less physically addicting, I decided (after talking with my psychiatrist and therapist) to give cannabis a shot. It worked. It stopped my nightmares. My dissociation got better. I could socialize again; I could even goddamn do karaoke without a sip of booze or flutter of nerves. I didn’t need all that Klonopin. I was sold, even if those I knew in recovery circles at the time were not. 

So when New York legalized medical marijuana for PTSD in 2017, even though I was already using it under doctor supervision, I jumped at the opportunity and got a medical card, hitting up a dispensary right away. I was a little bummed to learn that they sold lower-dose products for much more than my dealer (I prefer the term “florist”) could offer, so like so many others in this economy, I returned to the black market and honestly eventually just let my medical card expire. 

But something else had happened by 2017. I healed. Sure, I still had anxiety, some trust issues, and enough reasons to have a therapist, but I no longer woke up every night with flashbacks. I was my outgoing, extroverted, optimistic self again. Cannabis still helped me be present, dial down any social anxiety, and only need a Klonopin if having one of those panic attacks that feel like a heart attack. Still, I started to wonder: Was I “bad” for continuing to use cannabis, not primarily for PTSD, but simply because it felt good and made life easier? And, no, to this day, it’s never made me blackout, it’s never made me say something nasty to a friend I don’t remember the next day, it’s never given me a hangover with a side of suicidal thoughts. My friends, doctors, and partner actually sometimes need to remind me to take it when I get a little bitchy now and then. 

Then I realized something even more horrifying — I was thinking like a Reagan supporter. Is it wrong to enjoy the euphoric side effects of a substance? Taking this a step further, is it morally worse to enjoy the euphoric side effects of a substance such as cannabis that’s federally illegal instead of many FDA-approved anxiety or pain treatments that also make you feel high? What was this hypocritical bullshit? I’m a Virgin Islander, goddamnit, not some regressive conservative clinging onto the bullshit the Moral Majority spent so many years spewing. 

Of course, legalization has upsides, such as fewer people in prison and more research on the plant’s benefits. But by 2017, and absolutely by the present day, I don’t just fit the bill for a medical patient; I’m a recreational (make that adult-use, a term I greatly appreciate) user. Yes, it helps my anxiety and PTSD. Yes, it plays a role in harm reduction, just like dear old Bill W. eventually supported, and it makes it easier not to drink. I never even think about alcohol. But cannabis is also just fun. Plenty of people who use cannabis recreationally also receive medical benefits as a nice side effect, such as lowered social anxiety or better sleep. Conversely, people with medical cards who use it for an ailment enjoy the pleasant side effect of euphoria. Is either team wrong? I think not. Does one need a stamp of government approval (since when do we trust them on this subject?) to use cannabis guilt-free? Dear god, I hope not. 

We live in a culture that moralizes euphoria. From a government-approved recovery program POV, if it makes you feel good, it’s bad. Any substance use should involve honesty about its effects. For instance, while I used to use cannabis to help with nightmares, as I got older, THC started giving me insomnia. So now, unless I’m at a concert or late-night dance party, I don’t take any after a certain hour, sticking with a low dose during the day. But that’s just me. We’re all different, and everyone’s reaction to substances is different and will likely change throughout their lifetime. But in this beautiful life on this wicked world, filled with violent crimes, people in prison for non-violent crimes, pandemics, homophobes, hurricanes, cancer drug shortages, but also love, community, science, the spiritual experience of playing with a dog — I’ll take all the euphoria I can get as long as it continues to offer a positive impact on my life. Binary thinking is so Bush-era and so over. May the adult-use cannabis consumers also enjoy lowered anxiety or pain, and may the medical patients guilt-free pop an edible before a concert and dance up a sweat while enjoying a heightened sensory experience. 

Euphorically yours, 
Sophie Saint Thomas

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Gigi Hadid Busted for Weed in Cayman Islands

Fashion model Gigi Hadid and a friend were arrested on marijuana charges in the Cayman Islands last week, customs officials confirmed on Tuesday. After appearing in court and paying a fine, the pair continued their vacation and have since left the Caribbean nation, according to multiple media reports.

Hadid, a self-described “nepo baby” (her father is a real estate developer and her mother was featured on “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” after a 15-year modeling career of her own) was arrested on July 10 along with her friend Leah Nicole McCarthy after they arrived in a private plane from New York City, according to officials with the Cayman Islands Customs & Border Control. 

“During the search of their luggage, ganja and utensils used for the consumption of ganja were found in the luggage of both passengers,” according to a report from island news source Cayman Marl Road. “The quantities were relatively small and were seemingly for personal consumption.”

The two women were arrested and taken to a detention center, where they were released on bail. Two days after their arrival, Hadid and McCarthy were charged with “suspicion of importation of ganja and importation of utensils used for the consumption of ganja.” They later appeared before a summary court, where they pleaded guilty and agreed to pay a fine of $1,000. They were then released with a clean record, according to customs officials.

Ronde Coletta, Hadid’s representative, told the Washington Post that the supermodel had purchased the cannabis with a medical marijuana recommendation and noted that the medicinal use of cannabis has been legal in Grand Cayman since 2017.

“Her record remains clear and she enjoyed the rest of her time on the island,” Coletta said.

Once free, Hadid and McCarthy continued their vacation, with media reports noting that they had been seen at a karaoke bar and snapping poolside selfies that were later posted to Instagram.

“All’s well that ends well,” Hadid captioned the post, which did not specifically address her arrest.

Cannabis Policy Reform In The Cayman Islands

In 2021, cannabis activists in the Cayman Islands began collecting signatures for a voter initiative to decriminalize marijuana. If adopted, the proposal would also expunge the records of people who have been convicted of using or possessing small amounts of cannabis. And last year, the Cayman Islands Parliament voted to hold a referendum that would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. If either becomes law, the island nation will join others in the Caribbean region that have decriminalized cannabis or legalized medical marijuana, including Puerto Rico, Dominica, Jamaica, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Orrie Merren IV, a civil attorney who drafted the voter-led initiative, said that the proposal was drafted to address the disproportionate impact cannabis prohibition has on the islands’ young adults, many of whom live in its lower-income communities.

“I think it’s quite an onerous burden for them to get a criminal charge that then disallows them to obtain employment in the future, or in certain cases could hurt their ability to travel for the purpose of school, university, trade qualifications,” Merren told the Los Angeles Times, referring to young Caymanians. He said he knew at least one person who couldn’t travel to the U.S. because of a marijuana possession charge.

Merren noted that while residents of both wealthy and lower-income communities use drugs, arrests of low-income residents are more prevalent.

“You’re less likely to have police patrols going through a gated community than, say, if you’re looking at lower-income places,” which tend to have higher crime rates and greater police surveillance, Merren said.

Last year, law enforcement officers arrested 154 people for drug-related crimes in the island nation of about 80,000 residents, according to data from the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service. Most cannabis-related arrests were for marijuana possession, with only three people arrested for importing pot, the charge faced by Hadid and her traveling companion.

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Antigua and Barbuda Grant Rastafari Sacramental Rights To Grow Cannabis

The country of Antigua and Barbuda has become one of the first in the Caribbean to authorize Rastafari to grow and smoke cannabis, an herb that is considered a sacrament by followers of the religion. 

As the Associated Press reported, for decades, many Ratafari have been “been jailed and endured racial and religious profiling by law enforcement because of their marijuana use,” which they say “brings them closer to the divine.” 

Officials in Antigua and Barbuda, an island country with a population of a little more than 90,000, have now sought to rectify the situation. 

According to the Associated Press, the lifting of the ban makes the country “one of the first Caribbean nations to grant Rastafari authorization to grow and smoke their sacramental herb.”

“We’re more free now,” said Ras Tashi, a member of the Ras Freeman Foundation for the Unification of Rastafari, as quoted by the Associated Press, which reported that Tashi recently “led chants and praise in the tabernacle on the foundation’s farm located in Liberta’s lush agricultural district.”

Rastafaris have lobbied for legal cannabis in the country for years. In 2021, the Associated Press reported that adherents were “clamoring for broader relaxation to curtail persecution and ensure freedom of worship.”

The AP offered more background at the time:

“The Rastafari faith is rooted in 1930s Jamaica, growing as a response by Black people to white colonial oppression. The beliefs are a melding of Old Testament teachings and a desire to return to Africa. Rastafari followers believe the use of marijuana is directed in biblical passages and that the ‘holy herb’ induces a meditative state. The faithful smoke it as a sacrament in chalice pipes or cigarettes called ‘spliffs,’ add it to vegetarian stews and place it in fires as a burnt offering. ‘Ganja,’ as marijuana is known in Jamaica, has a long history in that country, and its arrival predates the Rastafari faith. Indentured servants from India brought the cannabis plant to the island in the 19th century, and it gained popularity as a medicinal herb.

It began to gain wider acceptance in the 1970s when Rastafari and reggae culture was popularized through music icons Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, two of the faith’s most famous exponents. Tosh’s 1976 hit ‘Legalize It’ remains a rallying cry for those pushing to make marijuana legal. Rastafari adherents in the U.S., many of them Black, say they have endured both racial and religious profiling by law enforcement agencies due to their ritualistic use of cannabis.”

The change in law in Antigua and Barbuda may lead to a similar domino effect as the one that has unfolded here over the last decade in the United States, where dozens of states and cities have lifted longstanding prohibitions on cannabis within their jurisdictions.

The Associated Press reported last week that “Rastafari elsewhere are pushing for similar religious protections,” and that experts and stakeholders “think the Antigua and Barbuda law could give a boost to these efforts worldwide at a time when public opinion and policy are continuing to shift in favor of medical and recreational marijuana use.”

Under the new law in Antigua and Barbuda, “the island government also decriminalized the use of marijuana for the general public,” according to the Associated Press, while also allowing “people outside the faith [to] grow four cannabis plants each and possess up to 15 grams.”

“We believe that we have to provide a space for everyone at the table, irrespective of their religion,” Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne told the AP. “Just as we’ve recognized other faiths, it’s absolutely important for us to also ensure that the Rastafari faith is also acknowledged … to acknowledge their constitutional right to worship and to utilize cannabis as a sacrament.”

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Deputy Fends of Five Armed Robbers at Dispensary in St. Vincent

The cannabis industry in the Caribbean mirrors the danger of the U.S. cash-only industry and the lure for criminals given the large amounts of cannabis and cash. In the town of Vermont (not to be confused with the U.S. state) on the island country of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) in the Caribbean, five would-be armed robbers were thwarted on Friday, Jan. 27 by a deputy guard at a dispensary. Due to quick thinking and a fast response, the perpetrators were caught mid-robbery while they were still at the site. 

Green Lava Labs is a medical cannabis company and dispensary in the Queensbury area of Vermont. As one of the first Class-C license holders in the country, a great deal of cannabis and a steady cash flow made it a prime target.

St. Vincent Times reports that five men, one brandishing a gun and another brandishing a “cutlass,” allegedly entered the dispensary at 2:00 am at night forcefully and injured at least one person. The five assailants allegedly attempted to break into the dispensary’s storage area. But a deputy from an armed security agency was quickly dispatched, returning fire and forcing the robbers to flee before they could make off with the loot.

“Our armed security operative engaged the bandits directly, firing several shots, causing the bandits to flee, without being able to break into the building and storage rooms,” Sheriff PSS Inc stated.

A deputy was dispatched to the premises promptly within 15 minutes, while the suspects were still on-site, officials said.

“Operations Control was contacted and our Executive Director Mr. Jason Greene and Operations Commander Mr. Cox responded immediately to provide additional support. The police [were] contacted and responded promptly within 15 minutes,” the release reads.

A caretaker who was on the premises was injured during the incident. 

“The live-in caretaker on the estate was injured during the incident and taken to the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital by Sheriff PSS Inc for medical attention,” the report continued.

“Sheriff takes this opportunity to remind the nation that we are serious about asset protection as SVG’s only tactical security agency. We stand ready to serve citizens and the business community as the #1 source for reliable, competent and efficient Asset Protection Agents and Security solutions.”

Government officials at SVG issued the first licenses to cultivate medical cannabis in 2019. 

Green Lava Labs Leader in the Caribbean

Green Lava Labs was launched in St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Nov. 15, 2019. Green Lava was among the first companies to be granted a Class-C Medical Marijuana Cultivation license in the country. The license allows them to extract, import, export, dispense, and cultivate up to 25 acres of cannabis.

Green Lava has the capacity of over 8,000 pounds of cannabis per year and future plans to reach the full capacity of its allowed 25 acres that should allow the company to produce over 35,000 pounds of cannabis per year.

The company’s grand opening was significant enough to attract Prime Minister Dr. Ralph E. Gonsalves; Minister of Agriculture, Saboto Caesar; a Senior Official of the Medical Cannabis Authority; and officials to attend.

The company offers flower, pre-rolls, CBD-infused products, and more.

The company also has other locations including one in Jamaica.

Business is once again booming in SVG’s medical cannabis industry, Minister of Finance, Camillo Gonsalves reported earlier this year. This follows a slow, discouraging period due to COVID pandemic restrictions and devastation caused by the La Soufriere volcano eruption.

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U.S. Virgin Islands Lawmakers Pass Cannabis Legalization Bill

Lawmakers in the U.S. Virgin Islands last week passed legislation to legalize recreational marijuana, bringing the number of states and territories in the country that have legalized the use of cannabis by adults to 21. The legislation was passed in the U.S. Virgin Islands Senate on December 30 by a veto-proof majority vote of 11-1. Governor Albert Bryan, who has expressed strong support for cannabis policy reform, is expected to sign the legislation, according to media reports.

The legislation was approved in conjunction with another bill that expunges past convictions for marijuana-related offenses, which was passed by senators on Friday with a unanimous vote.

Senator Janelle K. Sarauw, the sponsor of the recreational marijuana legalization bill, said that the legislation was a collaborative effort by advocates who overcame opposition to comprehensive cannabis policy reform.

“Although there have been many politically driven false narratives about this cannabis legislation, I am proud of the work done by the Senators of the 34th Legislature, community stakeholders and advocates, all of who contributed to the structuring of the final bill voted upon in today’s Session,” Sarauw said in a press release posted to Facebook. “The body did its due diligence in protecting the masses and the best interest of our residents by ensuring that locals and minorities are not locked out of industry and have any opportunity to participate in its economic potential.”

Senators Worked Through Holiday To Finalize Bill

Senators reportedly worked over the Christmas holiday to work out some concerns with the proposed bill, eventually making some changes to the measure’s language in an amended version of the legislation. 

“It became contentious, we almost went to war over cannabis,” Sarauw said jokingly in a statement quoted by The Virgin Islands Consortium, adding that “every single amendment, every single suggestion that members made is included in the amendment in the nature of a substitute.”

Possession of up to one ounce of cannabis was decriminalized in the U.S. Virgin Islands by legislation passed in 2014 and in 2019 a bill to allow the medical use of marijuana was passed by the territorial legislature. Under the bill passed last week, residents and visitors to the Caribbean island territory will be allowed to purchase adult-use cannabis and medical marijuana at licensed dispensaries.

“There are so many provisions in this bill across various disciplines, that once implemented and enforced with fidelity, the Territory will see an industry that is inclusive and diverse, but most importantly, safe,” Sarauw said in the press release. “It is my hope that the current administration implements both Medicinal and Adult Use to their full potential, for the benefit of the people of this Territory.”

Regulations Still To Come in Virgin Islands

Although the bill was passed by a veto-proof majority and has the support of the territory’s governor, Sarauw noted that the legislature has yet to pass regulations to govern marijuana cultivation and sales, steps that are necessary before a regulated cannabis industry can begin operating in a legalized economy.

“Cannabis will be on the governor’s desk in no time and we have done absolutely nothing to move cannabis forward,” she said. “We bawl, I get attacked in debates about cannabis and it will be on the governor’s desk – rules and regs haven’t been promulgated, no seal-to-seal tracking system, nothing has moved with this industry.”

The bill was passed early Friday morning during the last legislative session that Senator Donna A. Frett-Gregory served as Senate President of the 34th Legislature. She indicated her support for the measure, noting that the governor and 11 of the territory’s 15 senators had traveled to Denver to learn about issues related to cannabis legalization.

“It would be irresponsible of myself to not move this legislation up or down, whichever decision we make this evening, in the 34th Legislature because we spent the government money,” Frett-Gregory said.

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Jamaica Rises with the Help of Kaya Herb House’s Bali Vaswani

Though cannabis has been common in Jamaica for a long time, Kaya Herb House was the first regulated medical cannabis dispensary to open in not only Jamaica, but the Caribbean—stocked with its own flower and concentrates.

It’s thanks to Jamaica’s transformation on cannabis reform that can be seen by the swift changes in law over the past several years.

In February 24, 2015, the Parliament of Jamaica voted to drastically amend the nation’s cannabis laws—making possession of up to two ounces a petty offense, establishing a licensing authority and a medical cannabis system. Cultivation of five or fewer plants is permitted, and practitioners of Rastafari can use cannabis for religious purposes—the first country to officially recognize the use of cannabis for that reason.

It was historic in that Rastafarians have fought in vain for the religious right to smoke herb for decades—one example being when former Attorney General Janet Reno denied American Rastafarians the right to do so in 1998.

Courtesy of Kaya Herb House

The new amendments to law enable the company to thrive. Kaya Herb House’s sister companies Kaya Farms, Kaya Spa, Kaya Café, and Kaya Tours are a testament to how much the company has expanded—both vertically and geographically.

Kaya Farms announced its first legal harvest on February 20, 2018, grown at Drax Hall, St Ann, to be sold at Kaya Herb House. (Timeless Herbal Care also competed for that title, releasing a harvest during the same time period.) Kaya Herb House has been both a leader in high quality cannabis on the island as well as a prime source of education on the plant.

Balram “Bali” Vaswani is Kaya Herb House’s Chief Ganja Officer, born in Jamaica and witness early on to legendary strains dating back to the 1970s, such as Lamb’s Bread.

His team follows the strict rules of Jamaica’s Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA), and was actually subject to a random check-up during our call. But he says the systems in U.S. states prepared him well for the regulated industry in Jamaica.

“I was in, you know, I was in Colorado from around 2011 and I got a chance to see medical move to recreational and thought it was so interesting being able to be in a place and watch it happen,” Vaswani tells High Times.

After seeing how the framework in Colorado operates, Vaswani decided to participate in the formation of the licensing process in his own country as people lobbied in Jamaica to move towards the same agenda. “Both governments in 2015 were bipartisan, meaning they both kind of approved it and it had gone to Parliament, but the law has never really changed. And there was one milestone activity,” he says.

Bali with chalice / Courtesy of Kaya Herb House

Vaswani says all the legislative change in Jamaica was spurred by an incident—a clear-cut example of injustice—involving one young man who died in prison, over one joint.

Mario Deane was arrested in February 2014 for possession of a single spliff (joint), and was tragically beaten to death inside his cell at the Barnett Street Police Station in Montego Bay. Anyone who has been to Montego Bay, including myself, knows how common weed is there, which makes it even more angering. Police claim he was brutally beaten to death by his cellmates, Marvin Orr and Adrian Morgan, but his family and friends suspect police foul play could be the real reason.

“I believe the date was Friday, February 2, and he died in jail on Sunday—for one joint,” Vaswani laments. “And that triggered [action] because it was already in Parliament on February 5, went to Parliament immediately with the riots and stuff saying, this is ridiculous that we’re this far and we’re still, you know, still being brutalized. And coincidentally law was changed and enacted and decriminalized on February 6, 2015. And the government said ‘we’re going to issue based on the rules and the regulations of anybody under the U.N. treaty that we’re going to decriminalize and allow for research and development until we formed laws of what the cannabis license authority would do’.”

Vaswani was one of the first to get in early in the program, beating the odds. In 2015, he launched Ganja Labs LLC, which grew legal cannabis at the University of Technology, Jamaica in Kingston, under the UTech medical cannabis research license granted by Minister of Science, Energy and Technology Dr. Andrew Wheatley.

“I was lucky enough to get one, the exclusive one with the University of Technology, [Jamaica] in 2015. So we got that in May, 2015 and we broke ground in November,” he says. “And then we had the first harvest or legal harvest in Jamaica in 2016, but only for research and development.”

In 2016, Vaswani told Rolling Stone about how he shared the first harvest with longtime friend Rohan Marley, son of Bob Marley. The two have put their minds together on several business pursuits.

The change in laws was a significant time because they could get genetics, the software, and they could train people how to clone plants. Vaswani said that there’s a learning curve in a regulated industry, and you realize how much you have to do on a daily basis.

On March 10th, 2018—representing the first legal sale in the Caribbean—Bali recalls as many as 5,000 people lining up in front of the dispensary to buy medical cannabis. He remembers celebrating because from that day, you could buy cannabis legally with a receipt, with a medical card—instead of out of a backpack from sellers on the beach, or elsewhere.

Kingston Opening / Courtesy of Kaya Herb House

“And the only difference between the laws in the U.S. and Jamaica right now in terms of the medical side is that we don’t have edibles at all, but every other component in terms of rosin, resin, hash oils, et cetera, are all available, but just [the] ministry of health has not adopted the edibles.”

One location is in front of the cruise ship terminal about 30 or so minutes from Montego Bay. Then there’s another location two minutes away from Bob Marley’s house and across the road from T.G.I. Fridays in the heart of Kingston. In 2019, Kaya Herb House did its first export of oils, and then last year during COVID, they sent the first export of flower to Australia. “We’re not really a MSO, but we’re kind of an international company rather than a multi-state operator. And, you know, just to broaden our wings we said, ‘How can we continue to expand?’ So we launched our first franchise in December 2020 during COVID.”

Vaswani explained how they have a smoke room, and they are providing a lot of education because in Jamaica they didn’t really have the varieties of what you have in the U.S. “Our gum was finger gum that came off your finger, not really full hash, you know,” Vaswani says. “They didn’t have fresh clothes and they didn’t have kief so little by little we’ve, you know, we’ve educated a wider thing.”

The dispensary experience in his stores varied greatly from what you might see in the U.S., Vaswani says.

“In Colorado, we try to get people out between 45 seconds and a minute and a half per transaction,” he says. “Our typical transaction, our stores, for about an hour and a half they’ll come in … they’ll hit a dab, they might go for an espresso. So they might have pizza. So people might share, they might go back in and just get something else. And they’re kind of on the go. And then sometimes we see people three times a day.”

Kaya Herb House plans to build its next location in the Blue Mountain, which is four and a half thousand feet up, as their first entrance into “wellness.”

Vaswanis reminds us that psilocybin mushrooms are legal in Jamaica, and you can buy them as well.

“Our mushrooms are functional and psychoactive, you know, that would be available in our new location. Imagine looking over the city at 4,000 feet, and we have 4,000 acres surrounded by UNESCOs heritage site, you know, so it’s a protected area. So we’re, we’re, we’re gonna be inside the protected area of the forest.”

Check out what Kaya Herb House offers, especially if you plan on traveling to Jamaica.


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Trinidad and Tobago’s House of Representatives Votes to Decriminalize Marijuana

The Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago is making history with the advancement of two new marijuana related bills. Most notably, the country’s House of Representatives just approved a bill that would decriminalize the possession of cannabis.

Taking things a step further, the nation is also considering a second bill. This one could set up a framework for regulating the production and sale of marijuana.

All in all, this new legislation could bring big changes to the country. But it could also have much broader implications throughout the region.

Trinidad and Tobago Getting Close to Decriminalizing Weed

On Wednesday, the House of Representatives in Trinidad and Tobago approved the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Bill of 2019. After the House’s approval, the bill will now move on to the Senate.

The Senate will discuss and debate the bill before it goes up for a vote. All of that is reportedly going to take place this week and next week.

If the Senate agrees on a final version of the bill and approves it, the legislation would eventually be sent back to the House for one more vote. And from there, it would finally be handed on to President Paula-Mae Weekes to be officially signed into law.

The Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Bill of 2019 introduces a number of big changes for cannabis law in the country. These include the following:

  • A person can possess up to 30 grams of weed and five grams of resin without facing any criminal charges.
  • Possession of between 30 and 60 grams of weed, and between five and 10 grams of resin, will face a fee of roughly $200 USD. Importantly, this will not carry any criminal charges.
  • Possession of 60 to 100 grams of weed, or 14 grams of resin, would carry a penalty as high as $11,092 USD.
  • Citizens will be allowed to grow up to four cannabis plants at home. A previous version of this legislation allowed for home-growing male plants only. But this was changed, since male plants don’t actually produce smokable flowers.
  • None of these will result in criminal offenses punishable by jail time. But, failure to pay fines could lead to additional fines and community service.

Far-Reaching Impact

Obviously, if these amendments pass into law it will immediately affect Trinidad and Tobago. But it could also have ripple effects throughout the Caribbean.

According to Investopedia, Trinidad and Tobago is the wealthiest country in the Caribbean bloc, giving it a lot of weight and influence throughout the region.

One More Piece of Cannabis Legislation

While the nation is currently closest to passing its decriminalization bill, lawmakers are also considering another potentially big bill. This one is called The Cannabis Control Bill.

Importantly, this bill would establish a framework to regulate the production and sale of marijuana in the country.

The Cannabis Control Bill was recently moved to a Joint Selection Committee of the Parliament. Reportedly, this body will make recommendations to Parliament in early 2020.

If this bill eventually passes into law, it would move Trinidad and Tobago firmly to the forefront of progressive cannabis law in the Caribbean.

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Barbados Parliament to Consider Medicinal Cannabis Bill

Barbados this week will become the latest country to actively pursue a medical marijuana program.

Dale Marshall, the country’s attorney general, said that a bill will be introduced to the Barbadian parliament on Tuesday. The legislation is expected to be debated later this month.

“We have committed to medicinal cannabis because, as a fella said: ‘You gotta go where the science takes you,’ but there is always going to be some push back,” Marshall said, as quoted by NationNews.

Marshall, who also serves as deputy leader of the country, made the remarks at a gathering of journalists at the Argentina Embassy in the Barbadian capital of Bridgetown. He said he expects the bill to go up for debate in parliament on August 30.

Recreational marijuana is illegal in Barbados, the tiny Caribbean island country that serves as a popular destination for both tourists and offshore banking. Nearly eighty percent of the country’s roughly 280,000 residents are Christian, a potential hurdle for advocates who want to expand marijuana production on the island.

Marshall, however, said he doesn’t anticipate push back from church leaders. “I don’t think that the churches are against medicinal cannabis. The single treaty on narcotics, which is the 1969 United Nations Convention, exempts what would normally be illegal drugs, so long as the purpose is either medical or scientific,” he said at the press conference.

“Our big issue is always going to be the feeling that if you can use marijuana for medicine then you could also use it for recreation and I think that is what the religious community is concerned about,” Marshall added.

The announcement of the bill has been in motion for months. Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley said late last year that she was ready for the island to join scores of other countries—as well as dozens of states and cities in the United States—who have reconsidered both the social cost of marijuana prohibition, and the potential boon from legalization. Zimbabwe, mired in economic turmoil, said last week it would repeal its ban on cannabis cultivation to open the door for hemp to become a new leading crop export.

But as Mottley sees it, Barbados shouldn’t prioritize cannabis as an export, but instead use it to expand the country’s tourism industry.

“Why would we seek to export when we can package and extract maximum value by having clinics as well as recuperative villages for people who want to deal with a certain aspect of pain management?” Mottley said in December.

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