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Hotseat - Arun Jagtiani

842_hosteat1Businessman and father of two, 38-year-old Scorpion born Arun Jagtiani, who will be speaking at a forum on the subject of hemp/cannabis at Belair Community Centre on April 18, shares his thoughts on the matter in this week's Hot Seat.

Who is Arun Jagtiani?

A proud St. Maartener who loves his family, friends, career and country. I give thanks every day for all the blessings in my life and love the challenge of trying to be the best I can be in everything I do. To me, life is about enjoying every moment and growing one day at a time. As they say, life is about the journey, not the destination.

Where were you educated; what did you study and why?

I studied Hotel and Restaurant Management at Southgate College in London, England, and earned a Bachelor's Degree in Marketing at Florida International University in Miami, Florida. I believed these were the best subjects to prepare me for possible career opportunities in St. Maarten. I always knew I was going to come back home after my studies.

You are a panel member of an April 18 discussion on hemp; what do you bring to the table?

I have an entrepreneurial spirit and the legalisation of cannabis is a modern day gold rush. Make no mistake about it; if St. Maarten chooses to adapt its policies to create a marijuana tourism industry, I plan to apply for a license! I'm not coming to the table with any hidden agendas. I have some good practical ideas for how we can capitalize on this growing industry in a responsible way. That will not jeopardize our current tourism product, but will enhance it. I would welcome the opportunity in the future to be involved on a consultant level with government for the creation of this industry.

What is your expertise in this area?

I am not claiming to be an expert on hemp, but I recognise a good business opportunity when I see one. Ras Bushman approached me to be a part of this panel discussion, after we had had several spirited conversations about the business side of cannabis. There are many reasons why this conversation needs to happen, I will be there to talk about the business possibilities, but this is just one of many reasons why this makes so much sense. I respect and admire the diversity of all panellists that Ras Bushman has organised. It will be a very educational and potentially historic evening.

How do you think such a discussion can benefit the populace?

Let's look at the facts: Anyone who wants to consume marijuana in our society, whether tourist or local, has relatively easy access to obtaining it and very little risk of being arrested for purchasing small amounts. Those who disagree with that statement are extremely naive and not really in touch with what is happening on St. Maarten. Once we accept this as the reality, we are left with three basic options:

-Who cares, leave things the way they are.

-Increase our efforts to try and enforce the laws against marijuana. This basically means spending more on prisons and law enforcement. Of course, this is a never ending battle. To the best of my knowledge no country has ever claimed victory from this approach!

-Adjust our current policies to allow for this industry, which has always existed on our island to finally become a legitimate part of our economy.

If this is introduced in a responsible and well planned approach, St. Maarten will increase the local tax base, create jobs and increase tourism. The choice seems pretty simple when you accept the fact that it is happening anyway.

I recognise that there are many people who do not see it this way. It's important to respect each other's opinion and it's about time we have an educated discussion about the possible pros and cons of this industry.

Have you ever used hemp?

I've used many hemp products over the years, such as soaps and oils, and have even had some very cool clothing made from hemp. But I think what you are really trying to ask me is have I ever smoked weed (laughs); so let's just say my answer to that question is the same as the last three presidents of the USA.

What's your opinion on whether or not cannabis should be decriminalised here?

I am only in favour of legalising hemp/cannabis if it will be done in a responsible and well thought out manner. It should become an industry that creates wealth and opportunity for many on the island, not created into a monopoly. Anyone who chooses to get involved in this industry should be held to a very high standard with regard to not selling to minors, and should be required to contribute towards youth development and educational initiatives.

What is your recommendation on how this should be done?

I have spoken to a few doctors about this topic and they seemed pretty convinced that the best way to decriminalise is to start with a system that allows for the medicinal use of cannabis. Personally, I envision a system where anyone who wants to consume marijuana recreationally can purchase a picture ID/swipe card on an annual, monthly or daily basis. This ID will then allow that individual to purchase cannabis from any licensed retailer. It will also ensure that the consumer is of legal age, and will allow the authorities to monitor how much this individual is purchasing.

There should be a daily or perhaps weekly limit as to how much someone is allowed to purchase. Any person of legal age should be allowed to grow a few plants for their personal consumption. Beyond this, you will be required to obtain a growers permit. Retailers will be obligated to purchase their product from a licensed grower. Retailers and growers will be taxed like any other business on island, and consumers will be paying a tax via the purchase of their ID card.

This system will not eliminate the black market, but will eventually phase out much of the criminal element currently associated with the buying and selling of marijuana. It's very important that we carefully study and learn from what has been successful in other countries and try to adapt the best models to fit our economy.

You are in the business field. How in your opinion can hemp be of economic benefit to St. Maarten?

For years, our politicians and business leaders talked about diversifying our tourism product; here is a golden opportunity to do something bold in that direction. The Caribbean in general is well positioned to capture marijuana tourism. It would be sad to watch this industry blossom on other islands as we try to play catch up a few years down the road.

Why should persons attend the symposium?

We as a country should be having this discussion now if we want to capitalize and be on the cutting edge of this emerging industry. Or perhaps, we will be better off waiting until all the global nostalgia has worn off and we can safely follow the crowd with little or no international press. Then again, maybe it's in our best interest to never adapt our policies and simply allow this industry to thrive in the black market. Regardless of what your position is, it's time for a mature discussion on this topic.

Future goals?

I want to write a book.

Hobbies?

Reading, writing, swimming, yoga, spending time with my family and friends.

Pet peeve?

Internet and cell phone service on the island.

Biggest fear?

Losing a loved one.

Favourite type of music?

I love music in general and can appreciate all genres from rock n roll to classical music; but my favourite is definitely old school, hip hop and reggae.

If you could invite three famous people (dead or alive) for dinner, who would they be and what would you cook for them?

The first three people that come to mind are Gandhi, Bob Marley and Jesus. I guess I would have to serve something vegetarian; would have to consult with my brother for the best options.