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Cannabis in Small Commonwealth States: Turning a New Leaf?

From the Caribbean to Europe to Africa, more and more Commonwealth countries are moving away from punitive policies towards cannabis use, and introducing evidence-based reform.

The Commonwealth of Nations is home to over two billion people and stretches across the six inhabited continents of the world. Among the group’s 53 member states – which include a diverse spectrum of socio-economic realities and cultural traditions – 31 are considered to be small states.

In recent years, cannabis reform has been enacted in many of these smaller states, including Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, Lesotho, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Malta and Cyprus.

Some have decriminalised personal possession and cultivation, while others are moving to regulate the entire production and sale of cannabis for medical, religious, or recreational purposes.

Small Caribbean states with established Rastafarian communities and a long history of cannabis use – such as Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, and Trinidad and Tobago – hold a reservoir of existing knowledge about the cultivation, preservation, and uses of the cannabis plant. Nonetheless, it is frequent for these countries to experience difficulties in developing a profitable and sustainable market due to poor technical expertise and difficulty accessing the international financial arena.

Conversely, small European states such as Malta and Cyprus, are relatively inexperienced with cannabis and therefore lack an in-depth understanding of the properties, benefits, and commercial potential of the plant. Nonetheless, they enjoy greater market access through their membership of the EU, and hold robust institutional and infrastructural structures capable of developing a comprehensive and profitable cannabis market.

Cooperation between these groups of countries at the bilateral and multi-lateral level could greatly complement national efforts, and further create a space of mutual understanding and dialogue. Cooperation on issues related to cannabis could also be used as a catalyst for improved inter-cultural opportunities and commercial activities such as tourism. Furthermore, small states could use this new-found collaborative strength to be more involved in UN discussions on the reclassification of cannabis internationally.

The potential for a symbiotic-cannabis-relationship between countries of the Commonwealth is a great opportunity to reassert the unique value and resources of small states. Furthermore, it reaffirms the fact that – although considered vulnerable and isolated – small states hold the resources, expertise, and tools to build a strong network of partners exploring legal cannabis.

The Commonwealth could greatly benefit from increased cooperation and dialogue on the medicinal, religious, and recreational properties of this unique and versatile cannabis plant.

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