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Growing free

Cannabis is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man.{a}

Some think Cannabis-exporting should be St Helena’s next industry

Some think Cannabis-exporting should be St Helena’s next industry, but currently producing, supplying and sometimes even possessing it are all illegal. We discuss the various issues below.

Legal Status

Fate of confiscated plants

At the time of writing Cannabis is still treated by the Police as an illegal drug, and people are imprisoned for producing or supplying it, and sometimes even for possessing it. The recent relaxations in the law in the UK have not been repeated here. According to the ‘Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Ordinance, 2003’ it’s up to the ‘Governor-in-Council’ to decide which drugs fall into which categories, but in that Ordinance Cannabis is assigned Class B, along with substances like Methamphetamine (‘Meth’). The maximum penalty for cultivating Cannabis is a fine of up to £10,000, or imprisonment for 14 years.

The first prosecution we can find{1} dates from January 1983, under the ‘Dangerous Drugs Ordinance’. Several buckets containing plants were seized. Clearly cannabis was fairly new to the general population of the island at that time because one of the confiscated plants was displayed in the window of The Cannister and it was requested that anybody spotting somebody with such a plant should report it to the police (there is no record that anybody did!)

As shown in the photograph (right), confiscated plants are burned. The incinerator is in Ruperts. It’s easy to locate after a ‘drugs bust’ - just look for the crowd of people standing downwind…

There is a small number of Rastafarians in the Trapp Cott area but they have never managed to persuade the authorities that Cannabis-use forms part of their protected religious rights.

Use on St Helena

Everybody knows that smoking cannabis is common on the Island and has been so for many years. It is not a big secret that marijuana has been used as a party-maker high up in society, even among ex-pat contract officers. If every user on this Island were to be locked up, HM Prison would need a fairly extensive extension.{b}

Stories abound! They may or may not be true. It is said that possession of fewer than thirty female plants is treated by the Courts as ‘personal use’, but we can find no published documentation of this. It is said that one enterprising grower planted his special flora in the Bishop’s garden (which he was employed to tend) and told the then-Bishop they were just attractive bushes with interesting leaves. It is said that at one time there were several growers in prison together and they competed to see who could produce the best product in an out-of-the-way part of the Prison Farm. It is said that Cannabis used to be imported via the RMS St Helena (1990-2018), being dropped over the side to a waiting fishing boat before the ship moored (though as there was no apparent interruption in supply when the RMS St Helena (1990-2018) ceased running this was obviously never a major supply stream). One story is, however, definitely true - that of would-be drug-importer Captain Willem Merk and his yacht Frontier.

Police Report 28/3/2008

From Our Newspapers, in August 2003 the St Helena Herald lead with news of a Major Drug Investigation, but when you read the story it turned out that four people had been detained for possessing a very small number of Joints

One should also consider the juxtaposition of the two items (right) in the Police Report published in the local newspapers in March 2008{c}:

Not everybody is in favour of relaxing the restrictions:

I was surprised and disappointed to see in last weeks St Helena Herald that one of our Junior Football teams is named the ‘Cannabis Kids’. How can we allow this? We should associate clean and healthy living with sports, not drugs and especially not at junior level. I feel that the community must play a bigger role to assist parents, teachers and police to keep our children safe!!

N Stevens
Concerned Teacher{d}

Various 2017-2021 councillors were asked about legalisation during their SAMS Radio 1 ‘One Year Down’ interview in September 2018. Four spoke in favour of considering the plan. Read the detailed interview report in The Sentinel, 27th September 2018 (downloadable from the SAMS Website). The following week the Sentinel reported on a plan by Mark Brooks to grow medical marijuana in St Helena for export, which he estimates could earn initially £6m per annum and create up to 100 jobs in five years. Learn more (below). Mark Brooks was elected to Legislative Council in 2021 and was appointed as a Minister

Cannabis is clearly a hot topic: it was mentioned in our newspapers more than 1,100 times between 1st January 2000 and 31st December 2020.


Due to our tropical climate Cannabis grows wild on St Helena and has apparently done so for a long time. ‘Tracts Relative to the Island of St Helena’, by Governor Alexander Beatson (1816) lists it and ‘St Helena: A Physical, Historical and Topographical Description of the Island{2}’ reports: Cannabis sativa Hemp; mentioned by Roxburgh as growing in the Island. The Cannabis plant is native to Central or South Asia, so was most probably brought here by a sailor en-route from there to the UK. It is not known when cultivation began.

A Cannabis Industry?


It has been suggested that if Cannabis (a.k.a. marijuana and many other names) production were legalised here, the island could sell its product to those states and territories that have legalised it, and hence reduce or even eliminate our budget deficit. A paper proposing this was submitted to Legislative Council in August 2018, with America as the dominant target market. At the time of writing, however, there is a limitation to this plan: Although several American States have legalised Cannabis, even for recreational use, it remains illegal at Federal level. The Federal Government controls the ports, so while it may be legal in Colorado (for example) to possess it, it cannot be carried over State lines, and hence cannot be imported. But this is not necessarily a plan-killer. The UK is moving towards legalising Cannabis for medical use and recreational use may not be far behind, and Canada has already legalised both medical and recreational use, as have other states and territories.

The following is quoted from The Sentinel, 27th September 2018{e}:

Flowering cannabis plant

A proposal to legalise marijuana for export has been sent to Legislative Council. The proposal, drawn up by Mr Mark Brooks, outlines the currently illegal drug as a potential source of revenue for the island. Councillors Kylie Hercules, Clint Beard, Russell Yon and Gavin Ellick (Eddy Duff) spoke about the proposal, saying that St Helena needs to be looking at new revenue streams.

Russell Yon: I have positive thoughts on [the proposal to legalize marijuana on-island for export], because I have actually taken that issue to council as well. I wouldn’t want to see it as a social use, but for medicinal use. It would generate a huge amount of revenue for St Helena, you would possibly be looking at 6 million pounds a year - if it could be up and running as a good service - if not more, if it was done correctly.

Kylie Hercules: The timing on this is very crucial because we have limited land where we could potentially cultivate - obviously that limits how much of a quantity can be exported. You would want to be able to sign up to a contract or some sort of agreement very early, before some of the major countries change their legislation, or otherwise you could be put on the back foot; because why would you want a small tonnage and sign a contract for a small amount, when actually you have a bigger country that could supply three, four, five or ten times more than what we could potentially provide? People obviously will have their views on it, but it would not be a case that where we are looking to go and say ‘legalize it completely.’ It’ll be just having legislation in place to allow the growth on-island and then the exportation into the international market for medical purposes.

Clint Beard: I think right now we need to open ourselves up and explore lots of avenues because we need that growth in the economy. Is [cannabis] the right solution? Who knows, as we haven’t explored it. It would create jobs, taxes and if it all works it would put St Helena on the world map; it could increase investment; the prospects are endless. But it’s not to say that we want to bring in cannabis, but [it’s] about educating everybody on-island, young and old, to understand that this is more of a benefit.

Gavin Ellick: Medical marijuana is one of the things that could be good for exportation because it brings the money in, but it comes with a price. You must find land, you must find security, you must find the right seeds and you must find the right buyer.

Several pieces of legislation would need to be changed to make the proposed exports legal, including the Drugs Misuse Ordinance and the Drugs Trafficking Ordinance. So far there have been no formal proposals to legalise the drug for medicinal or recreational use. This proposal come during a time when cannabis legislation is changing worldwide. Medical cannabis was approved for use in the UK in July this year, and on Sept 18 South Africa’s highest court legalised cannabis use across the whole country. Full legalisation of the drug has taken place in several US states and has led to economic booms in Colorado and California. Senator Chuck Schumer is now also campaigning to legalise the drug across the whole of the US. Canada, too, plans to have the drug legalised before the year’s end [it now is]. Mr Mark Brooks is interviewing with SAMS this week and more coverage will appear in next week’s Sentinel.

See also the article ‘Turning Green into Green’, below.

In the meantime, St Helena does, it seems, already have a thriving Cannabis industry, albeit for purely on-island consumption. As mentioned above, due to our tropical climate Cannabis grows wild on St Helena. Unsurprisingly, therefore, despite the legal issues people already cultivate, smoke and sell it, and have done so for many years (Dr. Antonmarachi, who attended to Napoleon, reports it both as growing wild but also as ‘Cultivé’).


Below: Cannabis OilCannabis Appreciation DayFire!

Cannabis Oil

In July 2019 Legislative Council approved Cannabis Oil for medicinal use, the first time a Cannabis-related product had been licensed on St Helena. This version of Cannabis Oil has no THC component but has been found to have benefits in the treatment of cancer. The approval follows similar approval in the UK where this product is available for over-the-counter (i.e. non-prescription) sale. Cannabis Oil has no THC and hence no psychoactive effects.

Cannabis Appreciation Day

Cannabis Appreciation Day, on 20th April, is not openly celebrated on St Helena. While cannabis use remains illegal celebrations have to stay underground.


According to rumour, a house-fire in Jamestown in May 2023 was caused by somebody’s ‘grow house’ going up in smoke. If we get confirmation of this…

Read More

Below: Article: Cannabis Oil to be Legalised for Medical UseArticle: Turning Green into Green

Article: Cannabis Oil to be Legalised for Medical Use

By Andrew Turner, SAMS, published in The Sentinel, 1st August 2019{3}

Cannabis Oil Legalised

At the Legislative Council meeting on Friday, July 26th council passed a motion to begin work on legalising cannabis oil for medical use on St Helena.

The motion was proposed by Cllr. Brian Isaac. When speaking to the bill, Cllr. Isaac pointed out that cannabis oil had been used medically throughout history and had even been prescribed to Queen Victoria.

Cannabis oil has been used as a medicine for thousands of years all over the world, he said. It was a common form of medication in the UK and was even given to Queen Victoria to relieve her period pain.

Cllr Isaac made the case that denying the use of cannabis oil is a potential human rights issue under the ‘right to a healthy life’ that is enshrined in the St Helena Constitution. He said St Helena should not bar people from getting the best possible treatment.

Many council members spoke in favour of the bill. Councillor Cruyff Buckley went as far as to propose that council should consider legalising the drug more widely, saying that the law should stop making criminals out of our young people.

However some members wanted to wait for the UK to fully legalise cannabis for medical use before doing so here. For instance Public Health Committee Chair Cllr. Derek Thomas pointed out that although the UK had legalised cannabis oil for medical use, it was only for an interim period to gather data and he recommended that Council wait for the UK to make a final decision before legalising locally.

Cllr Gavin Ellick responded to this call by saying that councillors only follow the UK when it suits them, and said that council was in no way required to follow the UK practices on this issue.

Despite strong opinions on both sides, the motion was passed unanimously.

Article: Turning Green into Green

By Andrew Turner, SAMS, published in The Sentinel, 4th October 2018{3}

Turning Green into Green

Recently, legalising marijuana for export has been the talk of the town. It was revealed in September that Council received a proposal from a member of the public to start a business exporting cannabis, a plant that is currently illegal on the island under the Drugs Trafficking Ordinance and Drugs Prevention of Misuse Ordinance.

St Helenian Mark Brooks, the creator of this proposal, is hoping to create a company that will grow the plant, harvest it and export it in its raw form to pharmaceutical companies that would use the harvested material to make oils. These oils would then be used to make medications that, for instance, prevent seizures and treat depression and arthritis.

Seeds would be provided by a pharmaceutical company and would be designed to be best for medical use - meaning they would not have a highly psychoactive effect. The company would also ensure that the quality of the product was adequate.

The monetary goals

In a recent SAMS interview, Councillor Russell Yon said that the exportation of medical marijuana could earn Mark’s company £6 million or more per year - but Mark believes that figure could be even higher.

Mark has been researching the ways in which other countries produce medical marijuana, and at the kind of prices those countries get per tonne. He has also taken into account the shipping and other expenses for local production and estimates that £6 million should be a target income during the first year of business, but that by year five they should be targeting £60-£90 million.

When Councillor Yon said £6 million, I think that is underestimating how much we can make, Mark said. £6 million will probably be our target for the first year of production.

Other than the money, Mark estimates that the proposed business could create as many as 50 jobs in the first year and 100 jobs by year five.

What investment would be needed?

Like any agricultural business, land is one of the key parts of the business. However, compared to other high-value crops the land requirements are quite small.

Mark estimated that 10 acres of land would be sufficient to bring in £30-40 million worth of produce.

There would be initial capital required to install security and irrigation to the site, though and significantly, so far a funding stream has not been sourced. But Mark said initial support from the councillors has been favourable, with some going as far as to begin work reviewing the legislation. Enterprise St Helena (ESH) has also offered advice in developing the idea.

Everyone I’ve talked to about it, especially after I’ve explained what I’m doing, has been very positive, Mark said. The main issue we need to address here is the stigma around cannabis.

How would local laws change?

Cannabis has been present on the island since the mid-late 1900s{4}. As court records show, while few harder drugs seem to be present/prevalent on the island, cannabis is a relatively common recreational drug despite its illegality.

Legalising cannabis has been discussed previously on-island - but Mark said his proposal means legalising the drug for exportation only, with cannabis remaining illegal for use on-island.

All we want to do is change the law so we can grow and export it, he said.

Alongside legalising the drug for export, Mark said new legislation would need to regulate the growth of plants and ensure that only licensed businesses can grow.

Won’t people just steal it?

One of the largest concerns with starting a marijuana farm on-island is that the drug could become more prevalent on the island, but Mark said measures would be taken to prevent products ending up on the streets.

The company’s marijuana farm would have heavy security, and would be entirely fenced and covered by CCTV. Staff would be subject to security checks to ensure nothing was taken off-site.

Further to this, the type of plant Mark is hoping to grow would be low in the THC compound that has a psychoactive effect and high in the CBD oils that provide medical benefits - making the plant less attractive for recreational use.

The global climate

The proposal to grow marijuana for export comes at a time when legislation and marijuana use is changing worldwide.

Many countries are moving towards legalising medical use, and even Coca-Cola has been exploring health drinks made with CBD oils.

And while recreational cannabis use is still prohibited in most countries, many countries have decriminalized simple possession of the plant.

And in the Western World, cannabis legislation is relaxing the most. Canada will fully legalise cannabis Oct. 17, following the US where 31 states have legalised medical marijuana and nine states have fully legalised the plant. In the UK medical marijuana is now legal and it is also legal to grow cannabis under licence from the UK Government.

Cannabis tourism, in places where recreational use is legal, has become a booming trade. In the US state of Colorado, cannabis tourism has grown 51 percent since 2014, according to a report from the state’s Department of Revenue, which also said the state attracted some 6.5 million cannabis tourists in 2016. In the first month that recreational cannabis stores opened in Colorado, $14million of recreational cannabis was sold. By 2017, recreational sales had grown to almost $1.1billion.


{a} DEA Chief Administrative Law Judge, Francis Young{b} Mike Olsson, Editorial, St Helena Herald, 15th August 2003{3}{c} St Helena Herald, 28th March 2008{d} Letter in the St Helena Herald, 11th October 2002{3}{e} Copyright © South Atlantic Media Services Ltd. (SAMS), used with permission.


{1} Our newspaper archive is extensive but there are some gaps.{2} …including the Geology, Fauna, Flora and Meteorology, by John Melliss, published in 1875.{3} @@RepDis@@{4} Actually, much earlier. As mentioned above, it was growing wild on the island as early as 1816. It is understood that it was in use amongst the ‘Liberated Africans’ in the late 19th Century, and presumably therefore by the population more generally.