Ganja industry not a magic wand
The limited decriminalisation of ganja has spawned a number of misconceptions about the herb, which is still illegal in Jamaica, with many local and foreign investors already anxiously anticipating the millions they intend to make from this emerging industry.
"We know the economics. In Colorado (United States) last year, even though that's recreational but it also includes medical, they sold about US$1 billion worth of marijuana and collected US$135 million in taxes and fees for the state alone, with a population of five million plus," Delano Seiveright, a member of the Cannabis Commercial and Medicinal Research task force, told a Gleaner Editors' Forum recently.
"In the Canadian market, for medical, you have 35,000 to 45,000 patients, because they have a system in place for that. They are earning US$100 million from that alone, and their view is if they open it up, which they plan to next year, they are actually looking at earning US$5 billion from that industry alone."
He continued, "In the US market, overall, they sold US$5.4 billion in medical and recreational marijuana last year, and US$6.7 billion (is) expected this year."
However, Seiveright pointed out, as impressive as those figures may be, it may not materialise in the case of Jamaica, because the Government has not, and may not, sanction the widescale recreational use of ganja any time soon.
That, he said, means many farmers who had been cultivating ganja illegally over the years are not likely to transition that into a legal business.
NO GET-RICH SCHEME
Michael Tucker, executive director of the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA), offered some insight into why some persons' get-rich schemes may not materialise, pointing out that there was a science to cultivating medical ganja, as opposed to growing it for the express purpose of smoking.
"Despite the skill that some have in growing marijuana or ganja over years, that is not the type of ganja that is used in medical ganja - it's controlled. The THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) has to be consistent. It's a type of strain, so you get the same consistency every time," Tucker said.
"So there is a lot of confusion, a lot of doubt and concerns on the ground, and you hear it everywhere you go, so that discussion has to be had, too."
THC is a psychoactive compound contained in cannabis that contributes to the euphoric or 'high' feeling generally associated with its use. It has analgesic (pain-relieving) effects, neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory qualities, helps stimulate appetite, relieves nausea, and also contributes to other beneficial effects.
Dr Winston De La Haye, chief medical officer (CMO) in the Ministry of Health, said the inadequacy of the country's mental-health treatment and rehabilitation infrastructure is another major worry.
"One in 10 adults who use cannabis will become addicted. However, one in two adolescents who use it will become addicted, unless something is done," De La Haye shared.
The consultant psychiatrist, who served as deputy chairman of the NCDA prior to being appointed CMO on February 1, is well familiar with how the lack of funding has crippled the agency's ability to educate the many vulnerable groups.
"They just don't, and still don't, have the resources to ensure that we reach the children in schools in particular, and so they have done research in a number of areas, but a particular one that stands out for me is that 67 per cent of youngsters say they have never heard a prevention message. That's a problem!"
There is compelling evidence to support the need for ongoing accurate education on the use and abuse of ganja, Tucker agreed.
"Ninety per cent of the youngsters that we see in our offices for behavioural problems, suicidal problems, is because of ganja use. Eighty per cent of people who go into treatment and rehab for drugs, it is for ganja," the NCDA executive director informed.
A percentage of the funds accumulated from application fees and permits charged by the Cannabis Licensing Authority is earmarked to fund public-awareness campaigns.