In a wild week in the Caribbean, a Coca-Cola billionaire and his business partner were arrested for possessing thousands of cannabis plants, which they claim are hemp — but there’s a lot more to the story, including a fight over whether new cannabis markets should be controlled by local farmers or billionaire investors.
On May 9, Alkiviades “Alki” David was arrested on the island of St. Kitts after authorities searched his private jet and found roughly 5,000 plants cannabis cuttings, seeds and other products. David was charged with “Possession with Intent to Supply,” “Possession of Controlled Drugs” and “Importation of a Controlled Drug into the Federation” after the search.
David is not only the founder of the SwissX hemp CBD line of products — which meant that David’s partner Chase Ergen was also arrested over the cargo — but also a member of the Leventis family. The family runs Europe’s biggest commercial bottling facility. The Calgary Herald reported that a recent deal with Coca-Cola raised the family net worth to about $6 billion USD. Davis was himself reported to be worth over $3.3 billion.
Since the arrest, David has put up a cash bail of $30,000. In addition, he has to stop by the police station every day so authorities know he hasn’t skipped town.
David claims the entire cargo of the plane is cannabis high in CBD and not THC. St. Kitts & Nevis is a sovereign nation within the U.K. Commonwealth. The country has been moving towards reforming its cannabis laws for a few months, but the laws might not be as liberal as David anticipated — though he did acknowledge in an interview with The Observer before his arrest that he knew that the country didn’t have laws allowing for a legal cannabis industry.
“We’re here to build the regulatory framework. The fact is that this plant is 100 percent legal everywhere else in the world. Here there is no legal framework,” David told the publication.
Limited Cannabis Legalization in St. Kitts
On May 3, a High Court judge ruled that the St. Kitts government will need to allow adults to legally use cannabis in the privacy of their own homes, and he gave the legislature a three-month window to amend the law. The case that the judge was considering involved a Rastafarian man who was arrested in 2012 for possessing cannabis with intent to sell and for cannabis cultivation. The judge agreed with the man that the country’s drug laws were obstructing the man’s right to “freedom of conscience, including freedom of thought and religion.”
In their case, David and Ergen are claiming that they were arrested after business negotiations broke down with the St. Kitts Prime Minister Timothy Harris.
“We’ve have met with Prime Minister Harris to talk about coordinating support efforts before we leave next week for meetings in Dominica and other Caribbean island nations that have shown great interest in our cooperative partnership,” read a statement from Swiss on the arrest. “Those talks have broken down and led to the arrests of David and Ergen. David and Ergen’s legal team has arrived from the U.K. and will be filing lawsuits against PM Harris and the government this week.”
Prior to the claim that negotiations fell out, SwissX had laid out David and Ergen’s plans to make the island a force in the commercial CBD market backboned by their distribution to shelves at stores like 7-Eleven.
“It is with great respect for the people of St. Kitts-Nevis and the country’s sovereignty that Alki David, SwissX and their partners are working to make sure the island takes its rightful place as a leader in the world’s fastest growing industry — legal CBD hemp,” read the statement.
SwissX went on to note it already started talks with local farmers and businessmen “to build a fair and robust cooperative system.” SwissX also noted they “have been moved” by local knowledge of the crop and enthusiasm for its pending legalization.
Who Should Benefit From Cannabis Legalization in St. Kitts?
On the same day as the SwissX arrests, Harris presented his cannabis plan to the National Assembly, along with a riveting warning about outside forces attempting to corrupt the islands’ forthcoming industry.
“We have been reliably informed that certain international business predators and pirates aided by unsavory local elements are positioning themselves to venture into plant cultivation to the detriment of locals, particularly our Rastafarians bredrin,” he said, according to Caribbean News Now. “And some of the actors are seen in photo ops recently with unpatriotic persons with a checkered past who see the freeing up of the herb in St. Kitts & Nevis as an opportunity for them to profit at the expense of our local people. Misguided local operatives are promising land giveaways of up to 300 acres to their friends and associates.”
Harris told the assembly that he had a plan to make sure that local farmers were given a place in the local cannabis industry before international investors. “Non-nationals would not be permitted to secure advantages over our nationals as we set about to build out a marijuana industry and urged citizens to be ‘watchful and wary of any person(s) seeking to consort with international operatives to rob us of our patrimony.’”
David and Ergen are due in court Tuesday.