In April 2015, Jersey officials announced that the budget would be short £125m a year by 2019. By June, the annual deficit – now known on the island as the “black hole” – had been revised upwards to £145 million.
Guernsey on the other hand, needs to pay back £40 million a year with £26 million coming from public sector cuts.
These are big holes, and the question is, how can the Channel Islands fill them? The solutions are not pretty - voluntary redundancies, compulsory redundancies, new taxes, fewer public services etc.
Simply put, the archipelago needs more tax revenue and less public spending. As part of the European Country Review, Prohibition Partners examines how the Channel Islands can gain from medicinal cannabis plans.
With the release of the recent Paradise Papers and a ballooning public deficit, the recent indications that the government will seek to establish a medicinal cannabis market is reassuring news to many.
A Legislative Minefield
The governance of the Channel Islands is a little complicated and rarely understood.
They are not individual countries nor are they fully part of any individual country. Rather, Jersey and Guernsey are part of the British Isles but outside the United Kingdom as a British Crown Dependency.
The islands are not part of the European Union and therefore were not party to the 2016 referendum on the EU membership. They are however a part of the Customs Territory of the European Community and the majority of islanders hold British citizenship.
Where are we now?
In May of last year, newspapers across the UK heralded a landmark for medical cannabis patients in the British Isles. Many mainstream publications exclaimed that The Channel Islands would be the first of the British Islands to legalise cannabis treatments. However, the island governments have not activated any production or importation plans due to an apparent difficulty in finding suitable suppliers.
The local government of Guernsey and Jersey are particularly keen to import, grow and distribute medical cannabis - a fact that is not well-known to the wider European field of entrepreneurs and investors.
The islands' governments are currently reviewing laws around the drug, citing a report commissioned and ignored by a UK parliamentary committee. The Barnes report was well received internationally, and began a governmental conversation around the benefits of medicinal cannabis in Ireland back in the Summer of 2017. The Home Office, however, have been slow to respond and reluctant to accept that cannabis contains therapeutic effects.
As neighbours drag their feet in a legislative race, The Channel Islands holds unique ground. The small government allows for a quick turnaround of procedures and could start importing or producing cannabis products in 2018.
In December 2017, Deputy Montfort Tadier once again urged the Jersey Health Minister, Andrew Green, to implement plans to grow medicinal cannabis on Jersey.
Deputy Tadier exclaimed that there were many paths that Jersey could take -
“If we can grow hemp for rope, we can grow it for medicinal use too. The benefits would be economic as well as environmental.”
"It is nothing short of an act of cruelty to force patients to choose to live with pain and not access their chosen medication, or to potentially criminalise themselves and access unregulated and variable-quality medicine from the black market. They can of course choose to grow it themselves, ensuring quality, but still risking prosecution and jail."
Minister Green had boldly pronounced the he could lodge proposals to legalise certain products before the end of the year. Unfortunately, his apparently robust timeline has alluded him. Green plans to treat cannabis similarly to some opioids.
"The change I am proposing would, in effect, apply the same rules for these cannabis-based products, which would be treated as prescription-only medicines." he said.
Guernsey's Committee for Health and Social Care, deputy Heidi Soulsby, had been working with Minister Green on proposals to import cannabis-based products to the islands.
Sativex, the popular cannabis-based spray by GW Pharmaceuticals, is available privately in Guernsey, which accounted for 41 prescriptions between 2014 and 2016.
In Guernsey, medicinal cannabis is available via a special HSSD (Health and Social Services Department) licence though this is rarely utilised.
A domestic cannabis industry, as Tadier suggests, could bring welcome employment and tax gains to the islands, who prepare to endure tumultuous times in a post-Brexit and post-Paradise-Papers environment.
Jersey and Guernsey suffered particularly acutely during the financial crash in 2008. When Jersey went bust, half of their deficit was a result of extra healthcare and education spending.
Since 2015, both islands are looking at cost-cuts and as Brexit looms, neither island can be certain of future trade agreements.
To add fuel to the fire, after the release of the Paradise Papers in November 2017, some Ministers in the UK have called for more extreme and robust legislation on tax avoidance.
Jersey, in particular, bet its future on finance, allowing its other industries to shrivel. With the scope of economic difficulty that The Channel Islands is facing - the production and cultivation of cannabis crops seems a welcome opportunity for the former workers of horticultural and agricultural industries.
A New Dawn Awaits
It’s abundantly clear that The Channel Islands are about to undergo severe changes in the wake of Brexit and The Paradise Papers. A once wealthy and prosperous shelter looks set to defend a storm of economic uncertainty. As health costs rise and tax revenues dry up, both Guernsey and Jersey would be foolish to ignore the swelling medical cannabis market that sits well within their horticultural and agricultural abilities.