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Guyana Moves Towards Sustainable Development with Legal Cannabis

On Monday, August 8th, 2022, the Guyanese Parliament approved a bill that will legalize the cultivation and manufacture of cannabis in the South American country. This is the culmination of a proposal considered by the Minister of Agriculture, Zulfikar Mustapha, as a win-win situation for everyone in Guyana. The government intends this industry to encourage development, using the plant as an agent of productive diversification in the country, specifically in areas that need a boost to reactivate their economies.

The document approved by the legislature states that cannabis authorized for use, commercialization, and manufacture must not exceed 0.3% THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) of its dry weight. Companies wanting to join this industry will need a special permit issued by the Guyana Industrial Hemp Regulatory Authority. An entity provided for in the new law will include representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Guyana Forensic Science Laboratory, and the Private Sector Commission.

Although there is fear that bureaucratic barriers will emerge discouraging the development of the cannabis sector in Guyana since the permit required to operate will have to be renewed every three years for farmers, while the license for manufacturing companies will be valid for fifteen years. Operating without a license can carry a fine of $500,000 and a prison sentence of up to one year. Despite this, there is already talk that several North American conglomerates are interested in investing in the South American country to nurture their nascent cannabis industry. However, this complicates the development of local enterprises, and businesses, if they manage to get to market, will have to compete against these large multinational companies.

However, it is estimated that the market share will be large enough to supply all Guyanese who wish to be part of this productive sector. The government intends to take part in a market valued at some US$4.13 billion worldwide. The government is seeking to diversify the country's economic base while pursuing its Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS).

Cannabis as a Pillar for Sustainable and Targeted Development

The primary objective behind the decision to legalize cannabis is to build a development proposal in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Cannabis could be a transformative and diversifying axis of the Guyanese economy, due to hemp's high capacity to absorb carbon dioxide in the environment. As stated by Guyana's Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall: "It absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen into the atmosphere; one acre of hemp can absorb more than 22 tons of carbon dioxide," he said during his speech. "When harvested, it replaces more polluting materials in the manufacturing industry and offers alternatives for environmental sustainability."

The minister also added that priority will be given to regions 6 (East Berbice-Corentyne) and 10 (Upper Demerara-Berbice) for exclusive land for hemp cultivation, these territories are "depressed" and cultivation would help "stimulate employment and economic activities."

Conclusively, the government of Guyana, led by the Ministry of Agriculture, decided to take a step towards the legalization of cannabis as a tool to stimulate and diversify the economy. It also aims to insert the South American country into a global market with positive growth prospects in the future. However, it is necessary to work on less restrictive control policies that allow all its citizens to benefit from this plant and not just large foreign conglomerates.

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