Dear Editor,

Thank you for allowing me to comment on Mr Tokon’s article (DP of 3rd April 2021) and answer his “hard and direct questions”.

With all due respect to Chief Executive Officer of TIV Dr. Willie Tokon, it is obvious he is misinformed of the facts and the article is misleading and confusing.

Hemp and Marijuana are two different names for Cannabis, a type of flowering plant in the Cannabaceae family.

While science does not differentiate between “hemp” and “marijuana”, the law does. Legally, the key difference between the two is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content. THC is one of many cannabinoids, or chemicals found in the cannabis plant. It is the one that is primarily responsible for the “high” associated with cannabis.

What is hemp?

The term “hemp” refers to cannabis that contains 0.3 percent or less THC content by dry weight. Because the THC level in hemp is so low, it is unlikely to get you high.

What is marijuana?

The term “marijuana” refers to cannabis that has more than 0.3 percent THC by dry weight. THC content can vary among cannabis plants. Some strains are bred to be higher in THC than others.

Cannabis strains high in THC may produce a “high” and may be used for medical purposes, like pain management. Strains low in THC but higher in other cannabinoids, like cannabidiol (CBD), may also produce beneficial effects but will not get you “high”.

Hemp grows faster than trees and other crops, it is grown to create a more sustainable way of making products like paper, clothing, textiles, animal feed, plastic, hemp seeds (a complete protein that is also high in fibre), hemp milk (dairy-free, nut-free, plant-based milk), hemp protein powder (many health benefits, see here https://www.webmd.com/diet/hemp-protein-health-benefits#1), hemp oil (multiple benefits, see here https://www.webmd.com/diet/hemp-oil-good-for-you#1) and more.

The Cannabis plant has a history of medicinal use in many cultures dating back thousands of years, to maintain safety and consistent quality parameter of medical cannabis the plants are grown under strict climate and security control with only specific strands being accepted by the industry based on their different concentrations of active cannabis and cannabinoids.

To answer Mr Tokon’s questions:

1. Does Vanuatu have the capacity to monitor and control large scale farming of marijuana?

Yes, the Government can legislate and determine what is required from hemp & marijuana farmers and processors in the same manner it regulates and control other industries. It will be up to the farmers and processors to comply with the legislation or be dealt by the law.

2. Is Vanuatu in control of the present cultivation and use of marijuana in our communities?

This is a separate issue. However, the illegal cultivation of cannabis has a long history, authorities increasingly targeted so-called “wild marijuana.” This trend was based on the largely incorrect assumption that any cannabis plants would or could be made to produce marijuana. Most of the “wild marijuana” authorities destroys is either non-psychoactive hemp or feral varieties of marijuana that are far less potent than a cultivated plant.

3. Isn’t it obvious that we hear of rapes, killings, disrespect for Law, domestic violence, stealing, suicides and other effects of marijuana consumption every day?

Are you sure that marijuana use is the sole cause for these events? Wouldn’t you agree that other substances (alcohol, kava, drug abuse etc) combined with certain circumstances might have equal or greater contribution to the events you mentioned?

In any case, Cannabis plants grown for medical reasons must comply with international standards of security, traceability, organic procedures and other practices required by the governments and companies that further process the raw material into end products. To comply with these requirements the producers must implement strict security measures to prevent any unauthorised contact with plants or tools used in the process and the producers must use accepted software and coding system that follow & record the history of each plant from seedling to product. This method also enables the producer to recall certain batches and identify their location in case irregularities are found after distribution.

4. Is the Ministry of Health supportive of this initiative?

The MoH should be supportive of the Hemp industry considering the vast health benefits and the potential economic benefits should be supported by the ministry of trade. However, marijuana products are not intended to be used or distributed in Vanuatu and the legislation should allow for export only. As such, this is more to do with external trade than health.

a) Why? Just because of money? What happened to good health and wellbeing?

Though the revenue will help the Government to continue supporting the health and wellbeing of the people, money is not the only reason. Hemp products have high nutritional value and incorporating them into local diet can greatly assist our nation’s battle with NCD while processing these products can contribute to direct and indirect employment across the country.

b) Is the National Mindcare Service provider comfortable with large scale farming of marijuana in Vanuatu? If not, who is advising the Ministry of Health on this issue?

Large scale farming is for hemp production, it poses no greater risk to our society than cultivating corn or other corps. Marijuana cultivation is done in much smaller scale and under extremely strict conditions as explained above.

c) Is the MoH dealing adequately with the present abuse of marijuana in Vanuatu? Do we see or notice these young people wandering aimlessly in town, unkempt, no shoes and talking to themselves? Or, are we blind to all these? Is this government for the people? If so, why are we neglecting these people?

I refer you to my answer to question 3 above and add that regardless of the cause the Government. should look after these people which brings as back to the “money” you mentioned in Q4(a)

d) Does the MoH have the resources to deal with more young people who will become mentally challenged with more accessible and abuse of marijuana?

The Government (through budget or legislation of the cannabis industry) can direct resources to deal with these people. The legislated cultivation of hemp and marijuana will not contribute the increase in the number of mentally ill people as it is either potent or will be processed and exported with no contact whatsoever with local communities.

T.M

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