Vanuatu takes first steps to legalize medical marijuana

Vanuatu, an archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean, plans to introduce legislation later this year or next spring to launch an “ethical” medical cannabis industry.

The Council of Ministers – effectively the country’s cabinet – approved a “Policy Direction on Cannabis” to lay the groundwork for the local cultivation of medical cannabis and industrial hemp.

The paper directs related ministries to work with the State Law Office to develop legislation to provide guidance for the medical cannabis and industrial hemp industries and related regulations.

That legislation is to be ready for debate in Parliament in April 2019.

Amendments to various laws – including the Dangerous Drugs Act, Agriculture Act, Industry Act and Business Licence Act, among others – will also be introduced at the April 2019 session of Parliament.

The country’s next election is slated for 2020, giving Vanuatu’s 52 members of Parliament enough time to pass the law.

The policy direction stipulates that hemp and medical cannabis “should be exported and not sold in country until scientifically proven to have no harmful side effects.”

The ministers also decided to:

  • Establish an “ethical cannabis industry” in Vanuatu.
  • Appoint Trade and Industry, Agriculture, and Health and Internal Affairs as the implementing ministries.
  • Specify a maximum legal percentage of THC.
  • Ban home cultivation of medical marijuana.
  • Bar smoking medical marijuana.

The policy also spells out that the Central Tenders Board would be in charge of the “open and public” procurement process for five licenses – two for medical cannabis and three for industrial hemp.

Denver-based Phoenix Life Sciences International aims to apply for one of the two medical cannabis licenses.

The company said it has been working with various government ministries in Vanuatu for three years.

Matt Lamers can be reached at [email protected]

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