Ganja Labs to expand
Students stroll by seemingly unaware that hidden behind a white-lined fence sit rows of giant ganja plants at one of the largest testing facilities on the island.
Ganja Labs LLC, which grows legal marijuana at the University of Technology Jamaica (UTech) in Kingston, will increase its greenhouse cultivation fivefold for its second harvest, now under way.
The company plans to grow its greenhouse to approximately 5,000 square feet, which will begin in a fortnight. It follows an initial investment of US$350,000 by chairman and chief ganja officer Balram Vaswani, and additional working capital of US$150,000 to complete the next phase.
Ganja Labs launched cultivation of marijuana using three methods: indoors in temperature-controlled rooms; outdoors in smart pots exposed; and in a greenhouse, grown in an enclosed shed with natural light.
"We did our first cultivation under three conditions with similar genetics to analyse the cost of growing legally per pound and the complex problems that we faced growing under open air and controlled growing conditions with the use of modern professional horticultural techniques," said Vaswani.
"Know that if Jamaica wants to continue growing the 'best' ganja in the world, it needs to follow the highest standards set by the rest of the world. So this facility avoids growing in tyre-pots, which traps toxins or traditional drying techniques and which hurts the balance of the weed."
Ganja Labs told Sunday Gleaner Business that it learnt many lessons during its first harvest, including that wind, rain, and a variety of pests posed the greatest threat to outdoor cultivation. Consequently, the company will focus on greenhouse and indoor growth. That will reduce its reliance on the lower yielding weight and THC content from traditional outdoor cultivation.
"In our second crop, we will be able to benchmark yields going forward, as we have addressed the problems of light, temperature and airflow and also put in place a comprehensive insect pest management system," said Vaswani.
Ganja Labs started cultivating 36 strains of ganja under test conditions for its initial crop. Going forward it will focus on roughly a dozen strains and rotate various other strains seasonally.
The first round of research used several varieties each of sativa, indica, hybrid, and cannabidiol (CBD). In doing so, they hope to draw conclusions about the effects that different cultivation environments have on yields and percentages of active constituents. This will be the first controlled university study ever done to compare cannabis cultivation techniques, said Vaswani adding that Ganja Labs intends to release the results in an academic journal published with UTech.
"So we did tests with a variety of strains from local farmers in Jamaica and other breeders that have focused on specific genetics that have been proven in the medicinal field as we are trying to find out which one of these girls like it here," said the lead farmer at the lab, Tristan Champagne, who spends half his time at Ganja Labs in Kingston and the remainder on his farm in California, United States.
"One thing you find out really quickly is that certain genetics really didn't perform well under such hot temperatures, and each farmer should really take the time to find what grows well on his farm or in his parish and conduct soil and water tests as this will have a real impact on the quality of your herb," he said.
Ganja Labs currently operates under the UTech Medical Marijuana research licence granted by Minister of Science, Energy and Technology Dr Andrew Wheatley, in May 2016.
UTech Jamaica received its first medical marijuana research licence in May 2015 from the former minister, Phillip Paulwell. It however, recently put in place the paperwork needed to apply for a variety of licences to cultivate, process, transport, and sell ganja legally in Jamaica. They now await a response from the Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA), along with the other 200 applicants.
"Although the rules and regulations by the CLA seem very difficult for small farmers and businesses - which include what distance it needs to be from a school, computer tracking software, secured perimeter fencing and 24-hour surveillance - you soon realise that these regulations actually help you not only to monitor every aspect of the business and most important the raw material, but also help to provide security and shouldn't be seen as a deterrent for small farmers or businesses trying to enter the industry," said Vaswani.
Ganja Labs broke ground at UTech last November and operates with six employees, which ramps up to 10 during harvesting and includes students from the university's schools of business, architecture, and engineering.
The academics at UTech engaged in testing and research include senior director for international and institutional linkages Dr Claire Sutherland, and Dr Dean Grizzle of the College of Health Sciences, which is involved in nutraceuticals and various methods of pharmaceutical extraction.