Weed Ed | Protecting Jamaica ganja brand
Orange Hill is a small rural district in Westmoreland celebrated for its cultivation of top-grade marijuana. Its soil composition, water source and the light intensity all contribute to the unique chemical make-up of the ganja grown in that region.
In the hills of St James, indigenous Rastafari cultivators are perfecting their perma-culture practice, a way of cultivating ganja that is in perfect harmony with nature. This cultivation method eliminates inorganic materials and even reduces human interference, allowing the plant to naturally adapt to its environment. This process also allows the ganja plant to uniquely express itself based on the grow method and the environment.
As Jamaica looks to advantageously position itself in the global cannabis market, local producers are learning more about geographical indications (GI) - a type of intellectual property that can uniquely identify ganja from a particular region.
The Protection of Geographical Indications Act of 2004 defines GI as a good originating in the territory of a country, or a region or locality in that territory, where a given quality, reputation or other characteristic of the good is essentially attributable to its geographical origin.
This simply means, for example, that ganja grown in Orange Hill has unique characteristics based on its geographic origin and that only marijuana grown in that region can use the terms and phrases that link it to the territory. In this example, GI would provide greater protection to local producers from other producers looking to capitalise on the use of the name 'Orange Hill'.
"One of the biggest advantages of having a GI is the marketing and promotion privileges," said Marcus Goffe, deputy director and legal counsel at the Jamaica Intellectual Property Office (JIPO). "It's a useful tool that enables you to market a premium product and attract a premium price and help secure revenue."
'Jamaican jerk' is one example of a GI. Only jerk produced in Jamaica and made to a certain predetermined standard can rightfully use the name 'Jamaican jerk' on products. Similarly, in the alcohol industry, only 'champagne' or 'cognac' produced in a particular region of France can use those terms to identify their spirits.
Ganja, as a GI, would help guard against foreign producers using the descriptions such as 'Jamaica-type'.
"A lot of countries are producing ganja and Jamaica can't compete with the mass production of other countries," added Goffe. "What we do have is great climate and a good reputation, and geographical indications would allow us to distinguish our ganja from other products of a similar nature."
Goffe was a panellist at the recently held CaribCan, a cannabis policy conference exploring opportunities of how the Caribbean will make money from ganja in the regulated industry. The conference was a precursor to Rebel Salute 2019 in St Ann and it focused on how traditional ganja farmers can secure economic viability in the regulated industry.
Other legislation JIPO believes will help to protect farmers, according to Goffe, is the Rights of Breeders Act, a bill that will recognise cultivators who have created new plant varieties that have proven medicinal benefits. That bill is expected to be tabled this year.
The application for a GI, says Goffe, can be done individually or as a group, and that the producers must first identify the unique traits of ganja grown in the region. This, he says, will require analytical testing of the environment and the ganja flower, along with anecdotal evidence such as interviews with past farmers of the region. That evidence must then be submitted in the application process to JIPO, along with a code of practice and a control manual.
"You must be able to identify the characteristics that make your ganja unique. You have to understand the terpenes and cannabinoids and why your ganja looks and tastes a certain way," said Goffe, "and you must develop a code of practice of how the ganja is cultivated, cured and processed, and you must be able to show what control method you will use to ensure the standards are met."
Goffe said the application process can take as little as four months once all required documents are presented and that the GI application fee is $30,000.