An independent legislator is urging the Trinidad and Tobago government to allow for the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, saying the initiative could also help in the diversification of the economy of the oil rich twin island republic.
Senator Dr. Dhanayshar Mahabir, a University of the West Indies lecturer, said that several Canadian-based licensed producers of medical cannabis were collecting billions of dollars in sales annually through the sale of the drug.
He told legislators that local companies trying to do a similar operation here would be in breach of the law since the sale of marijuana is illegal.
Mahabir, who was making his contribution to the debate on the Finance and Appropriation Bill in the Senate on Tuesday, listed some of the top companies in the world involved in the medicinal marijuana production, saying some of them were listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
He told legislators that the market capital of these firms were generating collectively CAD$15 billion (One Canadian dollar =US$0.77 cents), which he said was equivalent to TT$80 billion, twice the annual revenue here.
“As I speak today, there is a deal between Aurora and Med Relief to merge. What do these firms do? These firms put people into profits. Their activity in Trinidad and Tobago would put people in jail. If they operate in Trinidad they would be cutting a jail. They make cannabis…they make marijuana,” the economist said.
He said while he had no desire to sample a marijuana joint, Mahabir said one Canadian firm, Canopy Growth, which had sales of CAD$5.5 billion was now moving into the US.
“You know, Madam President, Canada is a country on the forefront in marijuana cultivation in the world…with three months of the year with sun. And I was told that people in the industry, that they got seeds from was St Vincent. They didn’t tell me about Trinidad,” Mahabir said, adding that he was outlining the initiative because of the growth for medicines globally.
“And I would like for the Government… as we diversify this economy, let us look not only at the pesticides with neem leaves, but let us look at how we can produce medicines using these products which are now established in Canada and rapidly becoming established in the United States.”
The university lecturer said that medicinal marijuana was being used to treat epileptic patients and he is hoping that the National Oncology Centre, when it is completed to treat with cancer patients, Trinidad and Tobago “as a mature society if the doctor says that the medication which is necessary for their well-being…are cannabis-based medication, we are not going to say well, ah, ah, it is illegal in Trinidad and Tobago and compromise the health status of our population.”
Mahabir said that the Canadians have been tapping into this opportunity and “it was about time we step up to the plate because our oil deals will not last forever”.
Last month, former health minister, Dr Fuad Khan, also called for Trinidad and Tobago to examine the the possibility of decriminalising marijuana for medicinal purposes.
“Patients with epilepsy, diabetes, cancer, multiple sclerosis, irritable bowel syndrome and other conditions will be able to have access to legal marijuana, not having the added burden of trying to evade law enforcement,” the medical practitioner said, adding that international research in the last decade has shown that there is therapeutic value in medical marijuana use.
“Trinidad and Tobago must move swiftly to separate marijuana from the very real and dangerous illegal drug trade and allow the people who use it as medicine to do so without being incarcerated,” he said.
But the executive director of the Trinidad-based Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), Dr James Hosepdales, has urged regional countries to “proceed with an abundance of caution” when it come to the decriminalisation of marijuana.
Hospedales, who spoke on a government radio programme in St. Kitts-Nevis last month, said there is much discussion on the decriminalisation issue and that there have been several times in history where populations and societies have gone very liberal with substances of abuse.
“The Americans are in the middle of a big opioid crisis and some many decades ago they had a huge problem with addiction and especially among white women,” he said.
“We in the Caribbean have a problem with marijuana and clogging up of the courts and the justice system and that’s understandable to try and reduce that side effect. I think though, in introducing these kinds of public policies, consideration has to be given to the full range of impact,” he said, adding that if marijuana had to be decriminalised, there may be repercussions.