PHILIPSBURG--Indications that a foreign private company will draft cannabis legislation for country St. Maarten and will “assist each relevant ministry with the legislative changes needed to make the legislation a reality”, as per Minister of Public Health, Social Affairs and Labor VSA Omar Ottley’s statements, have Party for Progress (PfP) Member of Parliament Raeyhon Peterson on edge: “Where does it show that our own Department of Legal Affairs is not able to draft this legislation?
In a letter to Ottley dated October 11, 2023, Peterson posed several questions in reference to an October 6 article on the front page of The Daily Herald in which Ottley is quoted saying, “As it pertains to the cannabis, the RFP [request for proposal – Ed.] has been presented to the Council of Ministers. We will then move forward. We need JZ&W [Department of Legal Affairs and Legislation], which is our legal department, to then review and draft an agreement with whatever company is selected.”
Peterson wonders why an RFP was issued. “Why do there have to be private companies involved at all when it comes to the process of decriminalisation and legislation of cannabis on St. Maarten? Cannabis legislation is something that has to be ‘from’ St. Maarten ‘for’ St. Maarten.”
He is adamant that no assistance is needed from any private company to determine what legislative changes are necessary. “Those changes in legislation have already been worked on locally and the changes needed in local legislation have already been determined,” Peterson said. “What is stopping country St. Maarten from taking the lead in this process and starting the stakeholder studies and having the public information sessions as a country?”
In response to a question posed by The Daily Herald during the Council of Ministers press briefing on Wednesday, October 4, Ottley revealed that two of the companies that presented proposals were considered.
“Based on which laws did the whole procedure of the RFP and the selection process of
the two companies take place?” Peterson asked Ottley in writing. “Why was there an RFP done for the government to receive assistance in the decriminalisation and legalisation of cannabis? What research was done among the ministries to determine that there was a lack of expertise and capacity within the ministries and that assistance is needed from a private company to make the legislation to decriminalise and legalise cannabis a reality?”
While the two recommended companies reportedly are based in English-speaking countries, Peterson said the cannabis legislation would have to be drafted in Dutch. “What expertise in the writing of Dutch legislation do the two companies that have been selected have that makes them more qualified than our own Department of Legal Affairs to legislate or assist to legislate laws concerning country St. Maarten?” he asked Ottley.
Peterson also asked why studies and interviews pertaining thereto were not done locally. “What is the added value of having a private company as an intermediate for social research?”
Ottley said the company to be selected will pay for studies and interviews with stakeholders on St. Maarten. Peterson asked him what the company would receive in return. “What is their return in investment? It is my hope that there is no special agreement of ‘first preference’ for the selected companies to get first dibs on licences, growing and distribution rights, or other perks," Peterson said. "That is how it has largely happened in the past and continues to happen.”
He is convinced that St. Maarten has local persons with the knowledge to cultivate a thriving cannabis industry. “We don't need assistance from any private company to do this,” he said.
Ottley was requested to answer the questions posed and submit the answers in writing within four weeks.