Patria-Kaye Aarons | Marijuana details smoky
I remember in 2011 when Ras Astor Black built his political campaign around the development of a marijuana industry. His exact words to me in an interview ring clear:
"Every country around us have what we have: sun sea and sand. In fact, walk past a lot of our hotels and you smell the same fried chicken dem frying in Miami. What we have that they don't is good ganja. And we need to develop a tourism product around it."
When the locked aspirant brought it to the political ring, he was the laughing stock of the entire north coast. He now has the last laugh.
Not only has the use of the plant been decriminalised, but none other than the minister of finance himself, Audley Shaw, brought it to the house, in his first Budget presentation, as the green golden child.
"[Jamaica] must move with a sense of urgency and turn ganja, which has been a negative for Jamaica, into a major asset-creating wealth for our country.
"This is about an opportunity for small farmers who will now earn from land which is presently sitting idle." Shaw suggested that he would take the lead in his own constituency of Manchester North East and help the farmers there legitimately participate in the industry.
Fellow columnist Yvonne McCalla Sobers put forward interesting arguments in her column dated Sunday, May 29, 2016. Among other things, she raised the point that "over-regulating the ganja industry has the same effect as prohibition. It benefits Big Business (local and foreign), which can navigate the red tape and knock away barriers to entry".
And there sure are a lot of barriers. Answers to the "who will benefit" question, as at today, are leaning more and more in favour of the affluent.
According to the proposal, those desirous of legally participating in the developing marijuana industry must apply for separate licences for growing, processing, transport, selling and research. Each will come at a cost as high as US$10,000. Each licence comes with requisite stipulations that already differ widely from what currently obtains in Jamaica, making adaptation difficult.
Even the very idle lands proposed for cultivation by the Government will be a challenge as the legislation requires that the land to be cultivated have direct access to roads and be fenced - neither of which is the case for most idle Crown lands.
Those farmers who currently grow weed will have to procure at least two of the five licences because what's the use in growing it if you aren't going to sell it? There's no money in weed being flowers in your garden.
If the intention is to truly allow the small farmer to participate and generate wealth, what's on the table will need revision in short order.
We're putting in many rules, regulations, emphases and costs on the supply side (cultivation, transportation, selling, etc). We've also placed a lot of hope in the potential income a robust industry can generate. Are we to assume that equal energy will be placed on encouraging consumption? After we create supply, who will smoke it?
The major assumption, if Ras Astor and others are correct, is that it will be tourists - any of the near 3.5 million people who visit our shores.
There's a disconnect. You're building an industry around a substance that if smoked, the user can still be issued a ticket for. I can see the posters now: "Come to Jamaica and smoke - so that you can fund our marijuana industry and increase our tax revenue."
It just isn't coming together.
And what of the ban on public smoking? The proposal is for the smoking legislation to be relaxed in specialised marijuana shops and coffee houses, but you can't smoke tobacco cigarettes in them. I can't see how that's going to be enforced.
On website 420careers.com, you can literally find more than 420 'weed jobs' - professions that have developed and businesses that are hiring as a result of the legalisation or decriminalisation of marijuana in both the United States and Holland. There's no denying the possibilities.
I'm by no means knocking the development. But we aren't quite ready for "Come to Jamaica and feel all right". Let's iron out the kinks and ensure that the existing marijuana growers feel all right - even before the tourists.