Weed Ed | The importance of operational standards to Ja's ganja industry
Operational standards in the manufacturing sector are an integral element to the global growth and success of any industry. They represent a universal language and methodology of achieving a specific outcome that ensures the product does exactly what it's supposed to while protecting public health and safety.
Operational standards impact our daily lives without us even noticing. They determine the material your baby car seat is made of and they ensure the new phone you just bought works when it's plugged in.
Quality assurance at every step of the production process reduces mishaps, prioritises consumers' safety and, importantly, creates a medium for manufacturers from all over the world to sing from the same hymn sheet.
For the cannabis industry, which only recently emerged from the shadows of the illicit trade, there is perhaps nothing more important than exhibiting to the world that it is willing and able to abide by the rules of global commerce and trade.
For Jamaica in particular, the long-term success of the industry depends on the adoption of these standards. In order for local companies and investors to realise their full potential, they must be able to export Jamaica's high-quality, sun-grown ganja (or its oil) to the global market. And that's only possible if Jamaica is implementing the same standards as they are.
"We are in a ruthlessly competitive global industry and the local industry has to take these standards into account and prioritise them," said Professor Winston Davidson, former chairman of the Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ).
"There is no possibility of having a marijuana industry without the right international standards in place. We won't be able to integrate with the standards of the foreign market and they won't accept our product unless we are practising these standards."
FRAMEWORK BEING DEVELOPED
Weed Ed understands that the current BSJ leadership team, along with the Cannabis Licensing Authority, is actively building out the framework to establish the standards for the local industry. But in 2015, just before resigning from the board of the BSJ and shortly after the law was amended, paving the way for a local medical ganja industry, Davidson said he proposed a guideline to the Government of how to develop "a standards-led, market-driven" industry.
His proposal included an "inter-agency, inter-ministry", joined-up approach with the BSJ serving as the mobilising agency towards standardisation. His plan spoke directly to the development of standards around packaging, metrology, quality control, traceability, testing, surveillance, inspections and audits and the certification of products and management systems.
Most important, said Davidson, his report made the link with how these factors would facilitate trade once the Government completes the export legislation for medicinal ganja.
"All the basic things are available, but they (authorities) haven't put them together in a coherent way to derive the kind of synergies necessary to drive the industry," noted Davidson.
... Jamaica, other countries still 'figuring out' ganja industry
Cannabis industry standards have been a topical issue ever since the writing was on the wall that global legalisation was fast approaching.
Most countries so far have only legalised medical ganja which means the product is for medicinal applications. Once a product is being used for medicinal purposes, the quality assurance becomes more rigid.
While no standards exist yet specifically for the cannabis industry, manufacturers have been using a hybrid model, adopting good manufacturing practices and standard operating procedures from other industries such as agriculture, food and medicine.
Standards also play an important role in guiding policy and regulations. Once written into law, the standards become more enforceable and protect consumers and the country's reputation.
The International Organisation of Standardization (ISO), of which the BSJ is a registered member, oversees the development of standards in more than 160 countries under the auspices of the World Trade Organisation. Particularly for the cannabis industry, organisations such as the Foundation of Cannabis Unified Standards and the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) International have been working on developing standards to keep pace with the growth of the industry. In May this year, ASTM passed two new voluntary consensus standards relating to the measuring and water activity ranges in cannabis.
Standards are also being developed for the industry's soft skills, such as corporate social responsibility. A newly formed body called the Global Cannabis Partnership says it is establishing "international standards around informed choice, restrictions to youth, safety, advertising, the environment and ethics".
APPROACH NOT UNUSUAL
The approach Jamaica has taken to its ganja industry is not unusual. Across the world, countries have conceded that they're "figuring things out" as they go along, as this new industry provides as many challenges as there are opportunities.
Professor Winston Davidson, former chairman of the Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ), pointed out that what is needed now is a review of the BSJ's current capacities to "ensure the proper international standards are enabled throughout the whole value chain of the industry from the seed to the sale".
Cannabis industry insiders say the first sign of federal legalisation in the United States could be as early as 2019. When this happens, it totally changes the economic position of the industry and will have a ripple effect that opens up an entire global marketplace - but for those who are prepared.