Imani Duncan-Price | Ganja: beyond mining red dirt
Come with me. Red dirt/bauxite is to aluminium as ganja/cannabis is to cannabis medicinals? Jamaica has a clear choice in the development of the cannabis industry.
Is Jamaica on a course to actively leverage the ganja industry to raise the developmental capabilities of the country, or will the decisions made now perpetuate the economic situation, where the majority of people are left out of the value-added industry and only those with capital truly benefit?
The Cannabis Licensing Authority's (CLA) regulations on ganja for medical, therapeutic, or scientific purposes correctly cover the gamut of areas in the industry from seed to sale. The licences cover research and development, cultivation, processing, transport, and retail. As the interim regulations issued by the CLA are being informed via various consultations for potential updating, it is hoped that the spirit of community and national development in the creation of this industry will be maintained.
Yes, it is imperative that the industry be set up in a legally sound way with proper enforcement of the rules for structured growth. Yes, it is critical that sufficient funds be applied to national public-education campaigns on the risks of marijuana and how to use it in a beneficial way. This must be done consistently over many years as Jamaica seeks to build healthy and responsible norms of behaviour with cannabis.
Yes, the taxes on this new industry must be collected in an efficient manner to enable Jamaica to fund a stronger health-care system overall, provide quality education for all, robust citizen security, and further community development. All this is true. However, the principle of inclusion in how Jamaica goes about the development of the industry is essential.
ENABLING SMALL FARMER
In designing the regulations, it is hoped that the Government will keep key stakeholders clearly in mind. One key stakeholder is the current small ganja farmer. The small ganja farmer is not the 'drug kingpin'.
Those are typically the large distributors that are tied to the international narcotics trade. In the industry, the large distributors typically buy from small, traditional ganja farmers.
For the purposes of achieving deeply embedded development, this article speaks to enabling regulations and conditions for the small ganja farmer. They typically farm on small lots in communities across the island. They don't have significant capital for investment as ganja at this level is a cash crop. The money they earn typically does not reach banks as the crop production and sale are currently illegal. Formal education levels are not typically high, though they are entrepreneurial and have expert local knowledge of their crop.
More than 4,000 of these farmers see the opportunity in the legal medicinal cannabis industry and have joined the Ganja Growers and Producers Association of Jamaica (GGPAJ) in the hope of ensuring a fair chance to participate and grow their farms to support their families and communities. The design of the regulations will enable those goals or lock them out. The advocacy of the GGPAJ has, therefore, been practical and seeks to facilitate inclusive growth.
That traditional ganja farmers be given preferential access to cultivation licences for the first three to five years of the industry start-up.
That the optimum farm lot sizes be one-, two-to-three, and four-to-five acres for the first five years. The current cultivation licensing regime allows for persons with more than five acres to apply, opening up competition by large farmers with significant capital.
That a partnership be established between the Government's Social Development Commission (SDC) and the Jamaica Business Development Corporation (JBDC), with a joint unit actively supporting traditional ganja farmers to form cooperatives. This will facilitate wider beneficial involvement of community members as many traditional farmers are unable, individually, to acquire a cultivation licence. In the formation of the cooperatives, proper accounting, and business support would also be required and can be paid for through a percentage of sales of the crop.
The design of regulations may also inadvertently limit the growth of thriving, small enterprises in other parts of the cannabis value chain such as dispensaries or herb houses serving the tourist market with related medical or therapeutic services. Or they can enable medicinal cannabis to be the well-needed injection to enliven community tourism.
While all-inclusive hotels have done an incredible job in building out the international Jamaica brand, the very nature of their structure has led to a concentration of tourism dollars and limited the awareness of Jamaica to that of the properties. That is because most activities and meals, by design, are on property and not in the wider community. With this new industry, the tourist's keen interest in Jamaica's cannabis products and services should be facilitated with options off-property, taking them into communities to spend time with ordinary Jamaicans. This will increase the variety of Jamaican experiences as well as enable the tourist dollars to be shared with a wider range of players.
As such, all-inclusive hotels should not be granted cannabis retail therapeutic licences for sale of ganja 'buds' for smoking, nor should those properties be licensed to sell ganja cigarettes. Indeed, the therapeutic licence for large hotel properties should be restricted to the use and sale of ganja-based 'topicals' (for use in their spas, for example). If this is not done, there will be a continued monopoly with the all-inclusive hotels, limiting flow of money in the wider Jamaica and fuelling further unequal growth.
TRANSITION PERIOD: AMNESTY
Flourishing legal industries are critical to Jamaica's sustained growth. With that, careful thought must be put to facilitating a transition for current ganja farmers to transfer their cultivation activities to the legal and regulated medicinal regime. In support of the GGPAJ's call for an amnesty period of a minimum of nine to 12 months, this will allow the existing farmers who want to join the legal industry access to seeds and plant material and grow their crop to sell to other licensed entities, like processors.
In this period, the licensing fees would be reduced or waived and Government would put a stop to police raids and destruction of those existing ganja fields. All persons outside the amnesty would face the full brunt of the law.
In addition to the amnesty, there is a call for the removal of the clause in current CLA regulations that prohibits Jamaicans who have been convicted and sentenced in a foreign country from participation in the industry. If a Jamaican wants to participate wholesomely in the local legal industry and truly start over, is it not enough that the individual served his sentence? This is akin to punishing this person twice for the same crime.
It would be unjust if the many Jamaicans who have kept the industry alive over decades albeit illegally are unable to transition to legality, real business, and create an economic base for communities throughout Jamaica. It would also limit the transformational impact of this new industry and confine Jamaica to the commodity trap reality of red dirt/bauxite. Certainly, Jamaica deserves transformation.