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Medicinal cannabis could be ‘innovative and thriving’ sector of economy, Cortes says

Dr John Cortes

The Gibraltar Government will soon publish draft legislation for the regulation of medicinal cannabis in Gibraltar, Minister for Health, Dr John Cortes, said in his budget address.

The law for this will cover the production, import, export, marketing and supply of cannabis for medicinal use and its connected purposes.

“The Government is supporting the efforts of the private sector to establish the appropriate legal and regulatory architecture in order to create a robustly regulated medicinal cannabis industry,” he said.

“This regime will be fully compliant with the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961, as amended.”

“Subject to final discussions with Her Majesty’s Government in the UK, we very much expect to be in a position to publish the Command Paper soonest and certainly during the course of this year.”

The Government has “spared no effort” to ensure that the proposed new industry is “regulated fully in accordance with Gibraltar’s international obligations under the UN Single Convention,” Dr Cortes said.

Only the “most reputable” businesses will be licenced under this law and they must conduct their operations fully in accordance with the proposed new statutory licensing regime.

Dr Cortes said the medicinal cannabis industry “could well create an innovative and thriving sector of Gibraltar’s economy”,

With the medicinal cannabis industry set to expand all over the world, in Gibraltar this could lead to new employment and export opportunities to other jurisdictions, he said.

As Minister for Public Health, Dr Cortes has also overseen work related to the Covid-19 pandemic and he underscored the work done by Public Health Gibraltar since last year.

He said Public Health has a vital role in tackling preventable diseases such as obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure, and a survey that will be published shortly will confirm where Gibraltar’s health problems lie, and how to “strategise and resource” public health function to make a real difference in the community.

Dr Cortes also addressed the House on his other ministerial portfolios, including Education and Culture, the Environment, Sustainability, Climate Change, and Heritage.

EDUCATION

The Covid-19 lockdown saw the need to “reinvent” the way schools teach, with online teaching becoming the norm for students in Gibraltar.

But the impact of the lockdown also affected the students’ mental health, with hundreds of cases being seen by the School Counselling Service which began in August 2019.

The school counsellors have also helped teachers during the lockdown period.

“Covid was an incredibly stressful time in Education, for children, parents, and of course teachers,” Dr Cortes said.

“They all had to change what they did and how they did it, and we saw a flexibility and an adaptation, at levels that we had never seen before.”

“But we did it, and my strong view is that our children were much better taught during this time than their peers in UK, and that for the most part, they have been able to catch up on lost time.”

“I think that we are now much better equipped to continue online learning components and certainly using the internet to communicate with parents.”

Over the past two years no formal GSCE or A-Level exams have been sat, and Dr Cortes said the department is looking at other countries where education is “much less exam-orientated and more performance based”.

Unfortunately, the Government has not been able to start working on the new Gibraltar College, Governor’s Meadow and Bishop Fitzgerald Schools and work has been delayed.

Work will soon start on the new St Mary’s school, and work is proceeding with St Paul’s.

Meanwhile the new St Martin’s School will be open for pupils in September, Dr Cortes said, and it will have additional facilities such as a hydro-therapy pool, enhanced therapy areas and specialist classrooms.

He said the relationship with the parents of St Martin’s pupils “has never been closer”, and during lockdown there was communication and collaboration to discuss ways in which families could be supported.

CULTURE

Under his role as Minister for Culture, Dr Cortes spoke about the effect the Covid-19 pandemic had on cultural events in Gibraltar.

He called for the need of a “real theatre” in Gibraltar, adding that many people in Gibraltar have been involved in the performing arts and so many local artists have become established around the world.

The present facilities are not able to host professional productions, but the planned National Theatre and Cultural Hub that was recently announced will provide for that.

And he also announced 87 new artworks were acquired for the Government Art Collection over the past two years from auctions and private collections, including Gustavo Bacarisa’s Bodegon de Frutas & Jugando con la Abuela, Christian Hook’s Arabian Collection and Rudesindo Mannia’s work depicting The Mount, Alameda Gardens and Castle Steps.

ENVIRONMENT

Work in this department was delayed as staff were redeployed to support Covid work, but in 2020 the Environment team saw the procurement, delivery and ongoing maintenance of the Waste contingency equipment.

Dr Cortes said the Environment Department has recently embarked on a wide consultation process to ensure that Gibraltar is ready to deal with climate change adaptation and mitigation, such as rising sea levels.

Meanwhile, his department was tasked with dealing with the oil spill ecological impact assessment and overseeing the cleaning operation.

But despite this accident, the state of the waters have improved, with an otter in the Port, a wintering osprey, healthy dolphin and tuna populations and an increased occurrence of whales and other marine life “do not happen by accident”.

Though waste production was down, so was recycling and he said this could be due to the “persistent but unfounded word on the street” that recycled goods are mixed after collection.

While the lockdown restrictions saw an improvement to air quality, Dr Cortes said traffic and shipping continue to be the biggest contributors to this.

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