Lawyer Grant Connell thinks that the fines imposed on marijuana farmers when they appear in court are not in sync with the prices attached to the medicinal marijuana industry.
Speaking on Wednesday to SEARCHLIGHT, Connell said that a few months ago, Junior “Spirit” Cottle, head of the Cannabis Revival Committee (CRC), had an affidavit laying out the market price of marijuana, especially when there is a glut on the market, but the court still uses the valuation of the police which sometimes puts a pound of marijuana between EC$500 and EC$750.
He said that in one instance, a top ranking police officer told the court that a pound of weed is EC$900 and when the court accepts these prices, farmers end up in prison for marijuana, a product around which the government is trying to establish an industry.
Connell said he has heard persons say that a pound of marijuana is being bought at EC$50 in the medicinal cannabis industry, and if that is the case, that should be the value when persons are caught with weed.
“…so when you apply the market value to the medicinal marijuana, which is one and the same…the price is 10 times less in value than when you have to suffer and be put in pain and be sentenced which is a value of EC$500 to EC$750,” Connell said.
“The powers that be have to establish what is the value, if the medicinal marijuana is to benefit Vincentian farmers,” he argued.
“How could you allow the market value to be 10 times less than when the same people who come before the court at certain times suffer?” Connell questioned.
He added, “I mean, it’s the same herb, EC$50 compared to EC$500, something is definitely wrong. But who am I? I can’t change that,” Connell stressed.
He said that when it comes to the court, once fines are calculated at the value stated by the police, given the present climate with jobs and the lack thereof, you can see a “Ganga man” ending up in jail simply because he can’t pay the fine.
But Dr. Jerrol Thompson, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Medicinal Cannabis Authority (MCA) said that the scenario where a person is caught attempting to smuggle marijuana is different than one where someone has a large quantity of weed for the medicinal set-up.
“There is a big difference between someone who is caught with a spliff… than someone trafficking and breaking international laws, or trying to get cannabis to Barbados…or someone who has a boatful of cannabis and so,” Thompson pointed out.
He said these days, the police have a tolerance and they don’t “harass” people who have a spliff, as there is a ticketing system.
“However somebody who is trying to traffic and is caught, it is a different story and we are unable to say that is legal and anybody is able to ship…because you will find all the big barons from Trinidad and anywhere coming in and trying to get it done, Colombia and so forth- using St. Vincent as transit,” Dr. Thompson said.
In relation to the EC$50 per pound mentioned by Connell, Dr. Thompson said he is not sure about EC$50, but noted that a local businessman with a medicinal marijuana license recently invested in a crop, providing all the necessary inputs for production, including seedlings and fertilizer. He said the businessman also did the harvesting and drying.
“So that their (farmer’s) cost is significantly reduced, and the arrangement he is having with them …this is a relationship so that they will get a certain amount of money per pound and they will get one third of the sale price for what it is sold for,” Dr. Thompson explained.
He said that not every investor is doing it like that businessman but that individual provides all the inputs.
Dr. Thompson also stressed that finding a legal market is still hard for some cultivators, but for the last few years they have enjoyed a sort of free reign when it comes to possessing marijuana.
“They haven’t been troubled by coast guard and so forth…however that is not part of the legal structure that we can just throw things on a boat at 2’0 clock in the morning…,” Dr. Thompson said adding that the coast guard in other countries will try to stop them.
He said the process of buying marijuana from local farmers has been slowed as a lot of the business people wanting to buy are being hindered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Thompson also stressed that persons are seldom arrested for marijuana possession and when asked about Kevin Cyrus, a 58-year-old shopkeeper of Long Wall who was charged with possession of 16 pounds of marijuana, said that the Friday March 19 incident was one of a kind in recent times.
“I believe that is an isolated issue… and some of the lawyers will like them to do it, if the police lock up people,” Dr. Thompson said noting that lawyers are not getting the type of business that they are used to from marijuana farmers.
On March 15, the local coastguard caught a 18-year-old Grenadian Razard Bhola; a 25-year-old fisherman of Grenada, Michael Derrick; and Gordon Paines, a 38-year-old farmer of Georgetown with 38 pounds of Marijuana.
The group was caught in the seas off Union Island and the court assigned a value of $20,000 to the drug, and subtracted one third of this in applyig a sentence because of thei guilty pleas.
Paines is to pay $8000; $4500 for the attempted export, and $3500 for possession.
The Grenadian defendants were to pay $2665 each, with a $1065 fine for the possession charge, and a $1600 fine for attempting to export.
Commenting, Connell said the value given to the 38 pounds of marijuana is exactly what he is referring to when he talks about the disparity in the pricing.