Thu | Dec 14, 2017

Duane Smith | US smoking us with marijuana

Published:Friday | July 21, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Duane Smith

I take this opportunity to encourage the Government to take the necessary steps to ensure that the country is not left behind in the rapid developing marijuana sector.

While I may not be as fascinated by this shade of green, it would be remiss of me as a representative of the people, some of whom may so indulge, not make it known that we are being trumped in the race to earn from weed.

The Business Insider recently published a report that it is now legal to smoke marijuana in 20 per cent of the United States without a doctor's letter. This is a progressive move for the recreational use of marijuana within the US and has contributed increasingly to their GDP. It is expected that by 2021, the recreational marijuana industry would have made over US$20 billion in sales.

The amendments made to the Dangerous Drugs Act are on the right path towards transforming and regulating the sector, however, greater liberties must be considered. The act states that where a person is under the age of 18 years, or who is 18 years or older and "appears" to the police to be dependent on ganja, they will be referred to the National Council on Drug Abuse, for counselling.

While having the age requirement consistent with the legal age of consent is commendable, I am not convinced that the Jamaica Constabulary Force officers are trained to ascertain accurately if a person is dependent on marijuana based on appearances. This has the potential to become harassing if we ever move in the direction of widespread recreational marijuana usage.

In Alaska, for example, the age requirement is much higher, at 21 years, for persons to be eligible to use the drug. Since early 2005, roughly the same time the Dangerous Drugs Act amendment took effect, Alaska made it legal to use marijuana for recreational use. Users over the age of 21 within Alaska can carry one ounce freely for recreational use.

Our laws have been amended to make the possession of two ounces or less of marijuana an offence where persons will have to pay a fine, allowing almost twice the weight permitted in Alaska with far more restrictions. If the recreational use of the drug is to be considered, perhaps we must re-evaluate what quantity persons can legally carry or have officers trained properly to identify how to accurately identify a person dependent on marijuana.

Herbal Outfitters, a retail marijuana store in Alaska, opened its doors two years after the state made it legal to use recreationally. Their first customer bought seven grams of marijuana for US$145.65 for them or JM $19,000. The store sells various strains of the drug at different prices.

 

Massive earning potential

 

While the price of marijuana is considerably less in Jamaica than it is in the United States, the earning potential is still massive if the proper measures are established to legalise, tax and regulate the sale as was done in Alaska.

Although California was the first state to legalise medical marijuana in 1996, it has no retail stores and will not until January 2018 when the state will begin to issue licences to dispensaries. The 22-year gap is undesirable, and hopes are that in our attempt to capitalise on the growing wave of countries legalising the use, we will not have such a lapse.

In Colorado, for example, marijuana retail is saturated. There are more marijuana dispensaries than Starbucks and McDonalds franchises combined. This is partly due to them being one of the first states to legalise the recreational use of the drug. The early bird caught the worm.

Washington, the other pioneer state that legalised recreational use, has raked in over US$1 billion since 2012 across all dispensaries.

We are being left in the smoke of the United States in the advancement of marijuana use, and it may already be too late to significantly capitalise on it. We have done too little, and in my opinion, it may be too late to stamp our crest on the West as leaders in the marijuana industry, especially since Canada and Cayman are joining the party.

More states will begin to ride the wave, and while they are opening more retail shops than fast food chains and coffee houses in some states, and collecting meaningful revenue, we are opening Starbucks and arguing the impact one of their stores will have on our economy.

- Duane Smith is JLP councillor, Chancery Hall Division. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.