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Ganja $$$... Know before you grow! - Jamaica targets billions in taxes from weed

Published:Sunday | May 29, 2016 | 5:00 AMRyon Jones
Workers process ganja in the trimming room at the Medicine Man dispensary and grow operation in northeast Denver, Colorado.
Wheatley
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The Government is targeting annual revenue of US$2 billion from the ganja industry when regulations to govern the sector are finally in place.

Minister of Science, Energy and Technology Dr Andrew Wheatley told The Sunday Gleaner of the revenue target, indicating that plans are on in earnest to establish the legal ganja industry, with regulations to govern the trade having been sent to the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel by the Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA).

But Barbara Brohl, executive director of the Colorado Department of Revenue, which is responsible for the regulation and oversight of the ganja industry in that American state, is warning that before Jamaica begins to count the dollars from the industry, it needs to establish clearly why the industry is being legalised and gather data on the sector.

"What is really important is to know why you want to legalise it. Is it because you want to eradicate the black market? Is it because you want to increase public safety? Is it to minimise the abuse?" said Brohl.

"Even if it is to earn money, you have to look at when people are spending money on marijuana what will they not be spending money on, or are they already spending money on marijuana because at some point, you are to be able to check if you were successful in achieving your goals."

Colorado has collected more than US$220 million from both medical and recreational marijuana since January 1, 2014, when a special sales tax was introduced.

 

Pump money back into sector

 

For Brohl, if Jamaica were to copy the approach of Colorado, which was the first state to establish an all-encompassing legal marijuana industry in the United States, then whatever money is earned from the trade would have to be pumped back into the sector.

"None of this money goes to fixing our roads, or health care, or anything else except for marijuana processes," Brohl told The Sunday Gleaner.

"And we think this is really important, because it allows us to make good policy decisions here in the state because we are not reliant on that money.

"I am not saying a country could not make good policy decisions even if they use this money to do things like roads and other things; I am just saying from our perspective what has worked for us."

Wheatley has identified research and development of nutraceuticals as the areas where Jamaica will earn the most from ganja.

"It is the by-products more than just commercialisation of marijuana that will generate revenue for Jamaicans and the country on a whole. We have to just market the Brand Jamaica as the interest as it relates to marijuana produced in Jamaica is enormous," argued Wheatley.

That's a position endorsed by former head of the CLA Dr AndrÈ Gordon, who believes Jamaica's reputation is in keeping with the sort of holistic and naturalistic trends that are driving the medicinal marijuana industry.

 

Country well positioned

 

According to Gordon, the country is well positioned to benefit if the industry is administered properly.

"As far as the newly opened up medicinal and hemp industries are concerned, Jamaica is in a position - should we implement our management of it properly - to significantly capitalise on the reputation we already have for healing and for high-quality marijuana products," said Gordon.

"A tourist that visits the island, if we were to organise the industry properly, would benefit from being able to come in and access their medicinal product in a structured and organised manner in a manner that would allow producers in Jamaica to significantly increase their earnings as against what they would now get in the illegal trade, and that's from the tourism perspective," added Gordon.

One by-product of marijuana that might prove popular among tourists, particularly with smoking banned in public spaces, is edibles, but Brohl is cautioning that special attention must be given to possible safety issues.

"You have to address edibles because that's the one that is going to be the most tricky because if they are allowed to look like other candies, regular chocolate bars, or a gummy worm - those types of things - that's where it becomes more difficult in regulating.

"So you would then want to add other things like packaging, labelling, child-resistant packages, and public education," said Brohl as she argued that it would be good to start out with a few edible products and gradually increase the amount on the market.

ryon.jones@gleanerjm.com