The Republic of Vanuatu—a South Pacific country with a population of 277,000—has announced they will be legalizing medical marijuana. The small archipelago nation off the west coast of Australia hopes to have their first medical marijuana production licenses issued by the end of the year.
"I confirm that the council of ministers on Sept. 20 passed a policy paper to change the laws of Vanuatu to permit the cultivation and use of cannabis for medicinal and research purposes in Vanuatu by licensed parties," Vus Warorcet Nohe Ronald Warsal - Vanuatu's acting Deputy Prime Minister - said in a letter obtained by Benzinga.
The new legislation is expected to go to Vanuatu's parliament later this year. And the government hopes to grant production licenses by December. There will be two licenses granted for medical marijuana production and an additionally three to industrial hemp producers.
Previously, scientists in Vanuatu had been researching cannabis as a means of treating diabetes, the country's leading cause of death and the biggest drain on their healthcare system. The government has been working with the Colorado-based cannabis producer Phoenix Life Sciences on the diabetes research, and now Phoenix has been selected to help get Vanuatu's new medical marijuana program on its feet.
Dr. Santus Wari - Acting Director of the Department of Curative & Hospital Services at the nation's Ministry of Health - says he is confident that the policy shift will lead to a healthier Vanuatu.
"I am delighted to see the legalization of medical cannabis in Vanuatu and believe we are one step closer to treating the epidemic of diabetes within our nation and many of our neighboring Pacific countries."
In recent months neighbors of Vanuatu have begun to change their marijuana policies. New Zealand has begun working toward medical marijuana legalization, have licensed their first producer at the end of August. Australia, however, with one of their states launching a marijuana crackdown.