It’s the economy, stupid

This Island of abandoned schemes…
Editorial comment in the Diocesan Magazine, February 1963


St Helena has never been economically self-sufficient; but it wasn’t for the want of trying


From the first settlement of St Helena in 1659 right up to the time of writing St Helena has never ‘paid its way’. The East India Company largely accepted this, seeing the strategic advantages of possession as outweighing the costs, though they still encouraged the island to support itself as much as possible. However by the time the Crown took over, in 1834, the strategic advantage was waning and in the intervening years many attempts have been made to generate self-sufficiency. We look below at many of these industries; successful and not so…

St Helena in its limited circumstances is unable to produce an exportable commodity which can compete on world markets with modern production techniques in other more favoured territories.
The ‘Blue Book’, 1970/3

Below: 1684: Salt1690: Vin de St Helena1691: Tobacco1774: Whaling1774: Dolphin Fishing1824: Silk Production1856: Postage Stamps1867: Cinchona19th Century: ‘Leaky Ships’Late 19th Century: Coal1907: Lace1908: Fish Processing & Canning1914: Flax1935: Lily Bulbs1984: Coins1994: Coffee ProductionOthersWhy did they fail?Future?Read More

Our lack of heavy industry is a contributory factor in our exceptionally high air-quality.

In case you don’t remember, our subtitle, It’s the economy, stupid is a common variation of the phrase The economy, stupid, which James Carville had coined as a campaign strategist of Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 presidential campaign against sitting president George H. W. Bush.

1684: Salt


The Records show a letter from The East India Company Directors in London to Governor Blackmore:

Captain Bass apparently proposed Ruperts Valley for this enterprise.

We can find no evidence that this instruction was ever acted upon.

1690: Vin de St Helena

Vin de St Helena, 1690

In January 1690 several French Huguenots (Protestants), fleeing persecution at home under Louis XIV, arrived and were encourage to attempt the creation of a St Helena wine industry. The East India Company had been told tales of success in France, albeit with a little caution:

Their leader was a man by the name of Stephen Poirier, who was given the rank of Captain. The area chosen was in the area of Horse Pasture, though the exact location is not known. By June 1691 vineyard development was reported to be well under way and when Captain Dampier visited he was anxious to see the vinyards but prevented from doing so by poor weather. When one Seaman Barlow, a frequent visitor, arrived in 1694 he made no mention whatsoever of the vinyards in his Journal, though a minute of The East India Company for 1709 reports that the island produced 140 gallons of wine.

…and there the story ends. The wine production and the vinyards are never heard of again in the Records. What happened?

One theory is that, with the assassination of Governor Johnston in 1693 Captain Poirier became acting Governor. Did the vineyards fail because his attentions were directed elsewhere? The short answer is - we don’t know. No Records exist to document the industry’s fate or the reasons for its demise. Maybe an unrecorded spell of wet weather wiped out the vines; the weather on St Helena is known to be prone to bad spells. Or it could be that, coming from Northern France, the Huguenots brought vines that needed an annual frost to keep them healthy, and St Helena has never experienced frost. It would be nice to know in case anyone considers trying St Helena wine again!

Two of the Huguenots are known to have remained on St Helena. Samuel Defountain founded a family of farmers, though later disgraces brought the family name into disrepute. And Captain Poirier went on to become Governor Poirier (1697-1707).

Incidentally, Tony Thornton proposed re-starting the wine industry during his time in charge at Solomons, but nothing ever happened.

1691: Tobacco

Tobacco cultivation

In 1691 The East India Company decided to turn St Helena from being supplied almost exclusively from England towards more self-sufficiency. In addition to sugar-canes, cotton and indigo, an area was set aside for growing tobacco. On maps as early as that of John Thornton, 1703 can be found an area to the east of the island entitled ‘Tobacco Valley’. It appears up to the map by R. P. Read, 1817 and then vanishes. Comparison of old and new maps suggests Tobacco Valley is now Fisher’s Valley in Longwood.

It is reported that the crop failed, due to lack of proper manuring of the soil. The industry was attempted again in 1869, but abandoned when the supplied expert from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew was withdrawn.

John Melliss{1} reports:

Although in one year no less than 18,207lbs of tobacco, and 1,620lbs of cigars, upon which a high duty is levied, were imported into the Island, not a single pound of native-grown tobacco is gathered either for home consumption or for exportation.

And yet wild tobacco is reported as being harvested and locally smoked as late as the early 20th Century and the report of the (original) discovery of Louden’s Ben’s cave says that a large quantity of island tobacco nicely done up in rolls was found there.

More recently, during the stay of the Boer PoWs, the industry was re-tried (again!), using the prisoners’ skills, but this did not survive their departure in 1902. With current views towards tobacco and tobacco products it is unlikely it would ever be resurrected.

1774: Whaling


Whaling began off St Helena after American Independence, when British whaling fleets were forced out of the Northwest Atlantic, but the industry really took off in the 19th Century. To support this flourishing industry, Governor Robert Brooke (1878-1801) proposed the creation of a whale fishing ‘depot’ on St Helena, providing transhipment for whaling products back to Britain. Two whale species were hunted: Sperm Whales, which would yield between 25 and 90 barrels of oil per whale, and Right Whales, providing useful whale bone (a component of corsets, popular at the time). Whale oil provided fuel for lighting, lubricated machines and made soap and candles. Whale oil was also popular with watchmakers, and other precision instrument manufacturers.

In 1829, 22 whaling ships were reported as visiting St Helena: two Americans and twenty British. An attempt was made to set up a whaling company in 1837, but investors declined to participate and the share offering failed. The industry declined over the following 25 years and in 1855, although a total of 46 whaling ships called at St Helena, only three were British. The industry continued to decline and when Governor Cordeaux argued upon his arrival in 1912 that the industry should be restarted he was met with indifference. The industry was finished.

You can read more about our whaling industry on our Whaling page.

1774: Dolphin Fishing

Dolphin in the bay
Dolphin in the bay{a}

Incredible as it may seem, with dolphins now not only a protected species but also part of our tourism industry, until relatively recently dolphins were hunted for meat. (The same, of course, could be said for whales.)

It seems likely that dolphins were first hunted, at least in significant numbers, by the whaling fleets. John Melliss{1} reports a whaling captain describing how these creatures do exhibit prismatic colours immediately they are taken on board after capture. When the whaling industry collapsed it seems local fishermen continued to hunt dolphins, in addition to their usual catch of tuna and other fish. Fishing was manual, using a hand-thrown harpoon until the 1960s when spears became common. in 1978 the Fisheries Corporation recorded the landing of 37 dolphins, though in those days it was not required that catches were sold exclusively to Fisheries, so the actual number caught would have been higher, possibly up to 200. In the 1960s dolphin meat was sold for around 6d/lb and was very popular on St Helena.

The industry did not fail, it was prohibited. Dolphin fishing became illegal in the early 1980s and the industry ceased at that time.

1824: Silk Production

Blue Silk
Blue Silk

In June 1824 Governor Walker decided that St Helena would be a suitable place to produce silk. Silkworms were ordered from India, but they died in transit. A second batch, supplied from China by one of the Chinese labourers, arrived successfully. Mulberry bushes, the intended food for the silkworms, were planted in what is now known as Mulberry Gut near Longwood, and in mid-1827 The Briars was purchased for £6,000 to be a silk farm. The Records show:

And then…

Actually we don’t know what happened next. Evidently the industry did not survive. John Melliss{1} reports that the Mulberry Trees remained but the silkworm has long since disappeared. The ‘Blue Book’ for 1892 reports silk being produced at Maldivia Gardens but there are no records of any sales. No reports have been found of any other income being earned, or any further silk having been produced. It is our assumption that the project was abandoned in Governor Dallas’s time before it could become established, or when control of the island moved from The East India Company to the Crown on 22nd April 1834. An attempt was made by Fr. Daine in 1892 to re-start the industry, but this too obviously failed as there is no record of any progress.

1856: Postage Stamps

1912-16 pictorials
1912-16 pictorials

St Helena’s first postage stamps were issued in 1856, and from the beginning our issued stamps were of interest to collectors worldwide. It was not realised at first that income could be earned from this. The sale of stamps was discovered to exceed that required for transmission of letters and packets, the balance being the demands of philatelists; The ‘Blue Book’ for 1892 reports income of £199, and this was up to £777 in 1908. The first pictorial stamps were issued in 1903 but it was the 1922 pictorials, designed by Thomas R. Bruce that first really excited the collectors and that design remained on sale for the next 15 years.

The first true commemorative set wasn’t issued until 1934, celebrating a century of Crown rule, followed by a Silver Jubilee issue in 1935. These were also considered very collectable and commemoratives have been issued ever since. In 1935 the Post Office was the island’s largest single revenue earner at £5,814 (28% of total revenue for the year; just ahead of Customs at 24%). Currently the St Helena Post Office issues on average around 2 sets per year (the recent peak was 8 in 1999), though since 2012 worldwide philatelic sales are now handled by agents in the UK due to the transport issues associated with shipping from St Helena. You can buy St Helena stamps online from the St Helena Post Office Philately Sales website. Stamps are often bought by cruise ship visitors - they are small and easily transported.

With the introduction of the Internet and email sales of stamps for the transmission of letters and packets is in decline, but sales to collectors seem to be robust (£89,000 in 2008/9).

You can read more about our postage stamps and postal history on our Postage Stamps page.

1867: Cinchona

cinchona officinalis
cinchona officinalis

Cinchona was the source of an important product for the British Empire: Quinine, used to ward off malaria. In 1813 one Dr. Roxburgh, from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, recommended the introduction of Cinchona plants, in four varieties ( cinchona calisaya, cinchona officinalis, cinchona pahudiana and cinchona succirubra) from South America, and that the young plants be raised here for later transmission to India. This was acted upon in the time of Governor Elliot. Dr. Hooker, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew also advised the culture of Cinchona plants. Governor Elliot agreed with his plan, and a skilled gardener, J. H. Chalmers, was sent out from Kew, and Cinchona planting rapidly progressed. By the end of 1869 there were around 10,000 Cinchona plants, raised from seed and cuttings in a nursery at Plantation House then planted out at the Peaks. Plants were in all stages of growth, vigorous and in good health, with many approaching a metre in height. In December, 1869 Mr Chalmers reported:

It might seem premature to offer an opinion in respect to this, at so short a time from the commencement of the experiment, but considering the progress the plants have made, the extraordinarily long period of drought to which they were subjected during the very earliest stages of their growth, and perhaps, too, at times not the most favourable treatment resulting from inexperience on my part, I can express myself well satisfied with their present promising state.

All seemed well with significant income on the horizon, but in 1870 Governor Elliot was replaced by Governor Patey. The latter did not agree that Cinchona was the way forward for St Helena and, such was the power of a Governor in those days, he directed in December 1870 that the industry be terminated. The plantation was neglected, and soon totally abandoned. As far as we can tell none of the plants was ever harvested or shipped to India and the experiment, initially so promising, ended in failure purely due to Governor Patey. John Melliss{1} reports that in 1871 around 300 plants remained, reaching heights of 1.4m, and also that by 1874 some plants were thriving in a way which proves that they have the right soil and climate. Some may remain, but are likely to have been cleared as a non-endemic species.

19th Century: ‘Leaky Ships’

Leaky Ships

We were intrigued to read in The ‘Blue Book’ for 1887 Governor Grey-Wilson reporting the smallest ever revenue collection in the year and stating that The falling off was due to the absence of leaky ships, not one of which arrived during 1887. We explored further…

Leaky ships, it seems, referred to a significant source of revenue for the island caused by un-seaworthy ships calling in for repair on their way up or down the South Atlantic (estimated in The ‘Blue Book’ for 1880 at £1,200 per annum). In addition to income earned by fixing the ships there were customs duties collected from the ships for goods offloaded as well as spending by their crews while repairs were being effected. A tidy little business but entirely ruined by the passage of what is described in the Report as Imperial Legislation requiring all Her Majesty’s ships to be regularly inspected and carry a sea-worthiness certificate. With fewer ‘Leaky Ships’ to repair, revenues and employment fell.

It is noted that other causes exist for the reduced revenue: the opening of the Suez Canal, diverting Orient-bound ships away from the South Atlantic{2}; more steam-powered ships capable of completing the journey between the Cape and the North Atlantic without a stop-over in St Helena; and the advent of tinned-goods, reducing the need to stop for provisions for the ships’ crews. It seems St Helena’s economy was the victim of the inventions of the Victorian era!

In The ‘Blue Book’ for 1906 Governor Gallwey reported that in the four years I have been in the colony not a single leaking ship has called at the island.

Late 19th Century: Coal

Cover page advertisement, ‘Nature’s Neglected Citadel’, W Straker, 1891
Cover page advertisement, ‘Nature’s Neglected Citadel’, W Straker, 1891

With the rise of steamships it was considered that the island might have a future as an Atlantic coaling station. The idea might have been inspired by the emergency call of the SS Great Britain in 1852.

There were, however, some issues with this plan.

The plan never became established.

1907: Lace

Lace making
Lace making

After experiments from the 1890s our lace making industry took off in 1907, organised by Bishop Holbech with a Government grant of £470, supported by an enthusiastic Governor Gallwey. Ms Penderel Moody arrived in May, to be followed by Helen Girdwood in 1908, establishing the first Government Lace School, based in what is now the Post Office building. Business was initially good and while the income was not enough to balance the island’s budget (from 1912-1914 the income from sales was just over £1,500), it did provide employment for many women at a time when there were few other opportunities. Sadly, like so many other industries on this page, events took a turn against it - Helen Girdwood became ill at the end of 1916 and had to leave St Helena. She was not replaced and the School closed at the beginning of 1917. But this was not the end of lace making on St Helena.

Lace training was revived in the 1940s when Nelly & Minnie Finnigan arrived. Classes moved into the island’s schools and public library and the craft has been handed down ever since. It is not really fair to describe it as an ‘industry’ - it provides little income for the island, though perhaps if the number of tourists dramatically increases, as has been predicted to result from the advent of the St Helena Airport, it may again grow in importance.

You can read more about our lace industry on our Lace Making page, including an article by Ian Bruce. Locally-made Lace is sold on St Helena.

1908: Fish Processing & Canning

Emperor Brand Tuna, 2005
Emperor Brand Tuna, 2005

Attempts have been made since the late 19th Century to start an industry processing locally-caught fish for export. Despite some short-term successes - the longest lasting was Emperor Brand Tuna (photo, right) which continued for more than 25 years, but some lasted less than a year - today processed fish is not exported from St Helena. To read more about the ups and downs of our fish-export industry, see our Fish Processing page.

1914: Flax

Flax processing
Flax processing{b}

After a few false starts from 1874 onwards, a Government flax mill at Longwood was built in 1907, funded by a grant from the Imperial Government of £4,070. Initial progress was slow but the island’s flax industry really took off with the demand for rope and fibre due to World War 1.

No industry yet attempted in the Colony has succeeded so well as the production of fibre and tow from Phormium tenax.
The ‘Blue Book’ for 1917

It proceeded successfully, providing work for many and a reasonable income for the three industry owning families. At its peak flax covered over 12Km² of land and the industry directly employed up to 500 people.

However after World War 2 the industry fell into decline, partly because of competition from synthetic fibres, but partly because the delivered price of the island’s flax was, due to processing and shipping costs, substantially higher than world prices. Mills elsewhere in the world had automated the process by 1930; however the Government of St Helena imposed financial penalties on any mill owner who employed labour-saving techniques. The machinery in use here in 1965 was the same as that designed in New Zealand in 1900. The decision by the British Post Office in 1965 to switch to using synthetic fibres and the removal of the £5 per ton Government of St Helena subsidy dealt the final blow. Within the year the island’s flax mills closed, the last closing in 1966. The 54-year boom was over.

The full story of St Helena’s flax industry is told on our The Flax Industry page.

1935: Lily Bulbs

Arum Lily, zantedeschia aethiopica

In 1935 the island’s Agricultural Officer, Kenneth Toms, sent some Arum Lily zantedeschia aethiopica bulbs back to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, where they attracted interest. A UK firm thought the bulbs would find favour with British gardeners and so set itself up to import the bulbs for UK sale. The bulbs were found to be of high quality, and quickly became popular. They were shipped annually in the middle of the year, allowing the bulbs to be planted in time to flower at Christmas - hence their local name: Christmas Lilies. Working with the UK Colonial Office it was planned that as many as 50,000-100,000 bulbs per annum could be sold in the UK. In 1937 5,646 bulbs were exported giving income of just over £107. In 1938 this increased to 9,250 bulbs.

Unfortunately, World War 2 intervened and severely disrupted shipping of the bulbs, though in 1940 a total of 64,000 made it successfully to the UK. But the following year shipping delays meant that more than half the 41,000 bulbs shipped arrived rotten and unusable. Exports were stopped until the end of the war.

Post-war the UK had put a ban on the only source of competing bulbs, which came from Japan, so prospects for the industry seemed bright, but as always with a St Helena industry, fate had other ideas. An infestation of ‘eel worm’ reached epidemic proportions on the island, rendering most of the bulbs un-exportable. Nothing seemed able to defeat the infestation. In one year only 1,000 bulbs were exported. By the time the plague had subsided, superior Japanese bulbs were again permitted for import to the UK and the St Helena trade never resumed. In 1959 a notice in the St Helena Wirebird{10} mentions that We are again trying to build up the export trade of these bulbs but we can find no later references to this industry.

It is not known how the Arum Lily got to St Helena, but presumably it was imported by gardeners. They grow wild across the island, and in bloom are a beautiful sight. However the Arum Lily is actually an invasive species. It is our previous national flower.

1984: Coins

Island coins, 1984
Island coins, 1984

In the 1970s, inspired by the income earned from Postage Stamps it was suggested that, if St Helena had its own currency, money could be made by selling coin sets to numismatists. The new currency would be the St Helena Pound, ISO code ‘SHP’, and would be linked 1:1 with the British Pound, GBP. The passage of the Currency Fund Ordinance of 1975 and the Currency Regulations of 1976 established a currency board and the new St Helena pound became Legal Tender. The first St Helena banknotes were issued on 2nd February 1976 and the first coins were issued on 3rd January 1984.

Income was indeed earned from numismatists, though as with the Postage Stamps the returns made very little impact on St Helena’s budget. Income from the Currency Fund averaged £191,000 for the period 2006/07 to 2012/13 and, once costs were deducted for printing notes, minting coins and investment management charges, the averaged net income was £99,000 a year.

Recently the decision has been questioned. it has been pointed out that the income from coin sales goes to the Government of St Helena, but individuals and businesses on St Helena incur costs converting SHP into GBP to pay for goods and services sourced from overseas. It has been suggested that these costs may approach, or even exceed the profit gained, resulting in a net negative impact on the economy. At the time of writing this is still under review.

You can read more about our notes and coins and monetary history on our Notes and Coins of St Helena page and the article ‘St Helena’s Forgotten Currency Board’ may also be of interest.

1994: Coffee Production

Coffee production
Coffee production

Coffee was first introduced to St Helena in 1733 when Green Tipped Bourbon Coffee seeds were brought from Mocha in Yemen. It was grown only for local consumption until Napoleon praised it (The only good thing about St Helena is the coffee) during his exile here. St Helena grown beans were sent to London and caused a small sensation, based largely on Napoleon’s endorsement, and by 1845 it was selling in London at 1d per pound. In 1851 it won a Premiere Award at the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace. Any yet, in the following years export seems to have stopped. The 1900 accounts do not mention coffee production or any income from it.

The industry was revived in 1994 when David Henry, a Saint previously living in the UK, returned with plans to grow St Helena coffee in exportable quantities, using his contacts in the world coffee industry to secure overseas sales. As part of this initiative grants were offered by the Government of St Helena for others to set up coffee growing, and several new producers joined the market in the following years.

David himself ran into difficulties with his business and left St Helena, but other producers continued. In August 2015 it went on sale in Harrods (London). Volumes remain small and the income earned does not come anywhere near to funding St Helena, but it does generate an income for the producers and employment for coffee pickers and others.

You can read more about our coffee production on our St Helena Coffee page.


We have only snippets of information about these. If you can tell us more please contact us.

Why did they fail?

Is there a common cause for why all these industries failed? It can’t be Napoleon’s Curse - many failed long before he arrived. Governor Gallwey thought it was because Saints were not industrious, writing in The ‘Blue Book’ for 1903 I am afraid that the St Helenian, so long as he can live comfortably, will not look ahead, his motto being ‘Sufficient unto the day.’ but we reject that theory - there is plenty of evidence of successful entrepreneurship amongst Saints, often despite the appearance that the Government of St Helena is deliberately putting obstacles into their path.

In our view the vast majority of the failures were due to poor planning and unrealistic aims, often caused by non-islanders with no appreciation of the dynamics of St Helena. The rest we ascribe to simple bad luck. As Napoleon said: Luck is half of everything.

The Future?

Below: TourismCannabis


Fly Here

At present St Helena is trying to develop a significant Tourist Industry. Of course, tourists have been coming here since the island was discovered, and the first Cruise Ship called on 19th February 1930, but now the plan is to make the island self-sufficient due to income gained from ‘high-value, low-volume’ tourists. To facilitate this the UK Government spent £285m building St Helena Airport, attracted by projections{4} that this could deliver up to 30,000 tourists per annum within fifteen years of the airport opening.

The island has been developing towards this opportunity since the first airport announcement in 2005. Accommodation has and is being built; customer services training has been undertaken; tourist facilities (including signposting) have been improved; even food hygiene regulations have been tightened.

The scheduled commercial air service commenced on 14th October 2017. 2,365 tourists arrived by air in 2018, which is about 90% better than achieved with the RMS St Helena (1,267 in the last 12 months of RMS-only operation){c} but definitely not enough to significantly reduce the budget deficit.


Cannabis leaf

It has been suggested that if Cannabis production were legalised here, the island could sell its product to those American States 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. At the time of writing, however, there is a flaw with 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.

Fate of confiscated plants
Where confiscated plants end up{5}

In the meantime, St Helena does, it seems, already have a thriving Cannabis industry, albeit for purely on-island consumption. Due to our tropical climate Cannabis grows wild on St Helena. Unsurprisingly, therefore, people already cultivate, smoke and sell it, and have done so for many years. It is, however, currently treated by the Police as an illegal drug, and people are imprisoned for producing or supplying 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.

Everybody knows that smoking cannabis is common on the Island and has been so for many years. It is not a big secret that marihuana have 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.{d}

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 there is no formal documentation of this. It is said that one enterprising grower planted his special flora in the Bishop’s garden (which he tended) 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 was imported via the RMS St Helena, being dropped over the side to a waiting fishing boat before the ship moored (though as there has been no apparent interruption in supply since the RMS St Helena 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

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

The first prosecution we can find{6} dates from January 1983, under the ‘Dangerous Drugs Ordinance’. Several buckets containing plants were seized. Clearly cannabis was fairly new to 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!)

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{f}

Various councillors were asked about legalisation during their S.A.M.S. Radio 1 ‘One Year Down’ interview in September 2018. Four spoke in favour of considering the plan. Read the detailed interview report in the St Helena Sentinel, 27th September 2018 (downloadable from the S.A.M.S. 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.

Alice in Wonderland

Either way it’s clearly a hot topic: as at 1st September 2018 Cannabis had been mentioned in our newspapers 600 times since 1st January 2000.

The following is quoted from the St Helena Sentinel, 27th September 2018{g}:

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.

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.

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

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.

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Article: Turning Green into Green

By Andrew Turner, published in the St Helena Sentinel 4th October 2018{7}

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. 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{8}. 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} Robyn Sim{b} Copyright © 1962 Film Unit, used with permission{7}{c} Figures courtesy of the St Helena Statistics Office{d} Mike Olsson, Editorial, St Helena Herald, 15th August 2003{7}{e} St Helena Herald, 28th March 2008{f} Letter in the St Helena Herald, 11th October 2002{7}{g} South Atlantic Media Services Ltd (SAMS){7}

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{1} In ‘St Helena: A Physical, Historical and Topographical Description of the Island, including the Geology, Fauna, Flora and Meteorology’, by John Melliss, published in 1875.{2} Though actually it seems this claim is actually a myth.{3} The four ‘Wirebird’ publications should not be confused.{4} Atkins, St Helena Access Feasibility Study, 2005.{5} The incinerator is in Ruperts. It’s easy to locate after a ‘drugs bust’ - just look for the crowd of people standing downwind…{6} Our newspaper archive is extensive but there are some gaps.{7} Reproduced for educational non-commercial use only; all copyrights are acknowledged.{8} Actually, much earlier. 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.{9} You can read an article about Mosely by Ian Bruce, published in ‘Wirebird’, the magazine of Friends of St Helena{3} 2017.{10} The Government newspaper{3}.

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