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BSJ developing plan to ensure Jamaica's ganja is protected; 10% to 15% tax proposed on distributors

Published:Sunday | May 3, 2015 | 12:00 AMRyon Jones
Ganja field
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The Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ), which was mandated to design a regulatory plan for the decriminalised ganja industry, has developed a 17-step scientific footprint proposal.

According to the BSJ, the new ganja industry, which will be standards-led and market-driven, will operate based on a tracking and tracing system.

"We will be tracking and tracing the processes involved from seed to sale," BSJ Chairman Professor Winston Davidson told The Sunday Gleaner.

"We can label every single plant through radio frequency identification, and outside of that tracking and tracing system, you will be deemed illegal. And not only the Government will be against you, but legitimate planters will be against you because we do not want to have any underground economy."

 

1) Determining intellectual property (IP) rights owners

 

Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce Anthony Hylton has tasked the BSJ to first protect the rights and heritage of the community which has been producing ganja as a traditional herbal product and a sacrament for over 100 years.

"Already, we are well away doing this, as we have put in place the scientific framework for determining a number of factors in the establishment and the ownership of the different brands [of ganja], which have evolved over the years in Jamaica," Davidson said.

"This goes to the heart of protecting the rights of the Jamaican people so that whatever benefits are to be derived from the different species which will be identified goes to the rightful owners of the development of these brands."

The Bureau is working with the Ganja Growers' Association to determine the various strains of ganja on the island and the owners of these strains.

"They have branches in every parish, so they know who grows; we don't," Davidson said. "So what I will do is make up a template of variables they have to meet and give them and they come back and we register the owners of the intellectual property as a first step in the registration of the ownership of the intellectual property."

 

2) Cannabis Licensing Authority

 

Next on the agenda will be the establishment of the Cannabis Licensing Authority, which will be responsible for oversight, auditing, licensing, enforcement and collection. This agency will grant licences for transportation, distribution, research, production, cultivation, retail and patient use. Income tax will be collected from all licensed and registered entities.

 

3) National Seed and Strain Centre Repository

 

The third step in the regime is the establishment of a national seed and strain centre repository. Discussions are well advanced as to where the repository will be located. It will house representation of the various strains of ganja and tissue cultures to be used in greenhouse farming.

The repository will also undertake the cultivation of seedlings to be sold to persons who wish to grow a registered strain for personal use and to the cooperatives in an effort to protect IP rights and control quality.

 

4) Licence to cultivate

 

Individuals or members of cooperatives who wish to plant a registered strain of ganja will have to get a licence to cultivate from the Cannabis Licensing Authority.

Licences to cultivate ganja in the United States range from a low of US$1,000 in Washington to a high of US$200,000 in Illinois.

 

5) Seedlings to cultivation

 

When seedlings are sold to individuals and cooperatives, they will be tagged and labelled before being released.

 

6) Clubs/cooperatives/

 

 

community units

 

The cooperatives will be comprised of persons from the same geographic location who together own the rights to a particular strain.

"You have to follow the regulations, so no individual will be allowed to plant more than five trees," Davidson explained. "But if it is a cooperative, it is a group of people who make up the ownership of the brand, and they can plant depending on how many people are in that co-op and how many persons we have given authority to plant."

 

7) Seedlings to grower

 

Persons who wish to grow strains of ganja that form part of the repository (meaning it is the intellectual property of a cooperative) will have to be registered using their taxpayer's registration number before they can purchase seedlings from the repository. These seedlings will be tagged and labelled for tracking purposes.

 

8) Growing

 

In the growing process, the seedlings' tags will automatically become the plants' tag. Non-Rastafarian growers must harvest their five green plants and turn them over to the registered cooperative that owns the strain.

"But we have to make the distinction between the traditional way of planting ganja in the natural environment, as opposed to in greenhouses under controlled circumstances and conditions," said Davidson.

"They are two separate systems: one will give you a yield after 12 weeks, the other will give you a yield after seven weeks (greenhouses). This means you cannot have the same licensing regime for a turnover of seven weeks and a turnover of 12 weeks because, obviously, both of them are competing and the competition would be such where it is unfair."

 

9) Personal use

 

Persons who plant five ganja trees or less for personal use are not permitted to sell the weed. Anyone who wishes to buy marijuana should do so from the repository, unless the decision is taken to allow cooperatives to sell directly to consumers.

Rastafarians who cultivate marijuana for religious and sacrament purposes can harvest their five plants and use it for those purposes.

 

10) Seed reclaim

 

Both persons who cultivate ganja for personal use and those in the cooperatives are required to hand over the seeds to the repository. The seeds will then be tagged to protect the strain and protect the IP rights of the brand owners.

 

11) Bud to distribution

 

Packaged buds are tagged and released to the licensed distribution centre with invoices of the transactions maintained.

 

12) Packaging centre

 

The licensed distributor is responsible for separating and preparing the buds, so as to control quality by strain. The finished product is then labelled and packaged.

"The Bureau just got the global accreditation for labelling and packaging. This is a great day for the production and export of neutraceuticals for Jamaica," declared Davidson.

 

13) Distribution

 

The packaging and distribution centre will package finished products, which are tagged and transported to approved points.

The Bureau is proposing a straight distribution tax of 10 per cent to 15 per cent of the total wholesale transaction dollars. This tax would be collected at the time the distributor requests a manifest from the tracking system. This tax could be collected automatically.

 

14) Research and testing

 

Licensed researchers will obtain packaged ganja from the distribution centre, which will then be used for medical and scientific studies. The actual testing protocols required in the supply chain will be established by the Bureau.

 

15) Production

 

Licensed producers will send tagged neutraceuticals and edibles to licensed researcher for testing. The infused product will then be tagged, labelled and transported back to the licensed retailers.

 

16) Licensed retailers

 

These licensed retailers will include pharmacies and vending machines.

"Persons who wish to purchase ganja for medical and religious purpose will get a swipe card, similar to that issued by the NHF (National Health Fund)," Davidson informed.

 

17) The sale

 

Persons wishing to purchase ganja will have to be licensed to do so and will pay a sales tax. The system will impose buying limits based on doctors' authorisation and validate the patient at time of purchase.

The Bureau has recommended that a process be put in place for tourists to participate as a licensed patient in the system. The airports have been identified as key points in establishing the ability for a tourist to receive legal authorisation to consume ganja while in Jamaica.

Marijuana medical licences in the United States go for a high of US$87 and a low of US$51.

"If it is being sold wholesale for retail, then you would have another system of tracking and tracing for that until it is consumed," said Davidson. "If we can get people to plant our brands in another jurisdiction (country) and smoke it there, Jamaica gets a royalty. That is why we have to brand it."

ryon.jones@gleanerjm.com