The McKenzie brothers - dynamic marijuana proponents
THOUGH BORN five years apart, brothers Dwayne and Karibe McKenzie have been a team from their childhood days growing up in Meadowbrook, St Andrew.
The brothers have managed to gain the historic first licence in Jamaica to cultivate cannabis.
Epican, the Jamaican-owned and operated company, was cofounded by older brother Dwayne, the company’s president, and younger brother Karibe, who serves as the company’s CEO. Epican has recently secured two additional licences – one to enable processing, and another for the retailing of medicinal ganja.
Today, we take a look at the McKenzie brothers’ journey and what led to them becoming the dynamic marijuana proponents they are today.
“Our grandmother Beryl McKenzie was an educator and was big on self-mpowerment. She constantly told us that our purpose in life was to 'champion the cause of the underdogs'. This stuck with us as young boys, and all our lives we grew up with that. We were taught that what we did was our worth," Dwayne told Outlook. It is this fundamental teaching which propelled the brothers to travel the continents for personal development and which has brought them full circle back home to Jamaica. They never set out to be ganja pioneers. However, they have always had a desire to make a difference wherever they went, just like Grandma Beryl told them - "You are here to be relevant."
Asked what it's like working with a sibling, Dwayne noted, "We were close from we were young; not every combination is a good combination and not very equation is balanced. However, we were very fortunate being so close, and it comes from a deep-seated respect for each other. We have two different personalities, but we balance each other out. When we were growing up, none of us ever had one dollar. Instead, we always had 50 cents each. We were never selfish. We have always been drawn to the working-class people, which was evident in our childhood, as we gravitated to the gardeners and helpers employed by our parents."
After Meadowbrook High School, the McKenzie brothers moved to Baltimore, Maryland, to complete their education. "When we saw the mentality of the black Americans living in Baltimore, we were disheartened when we realised that their history began with slavery and they carried on as, so to speak, 'second-class citizens'," Dwayne said. He noted that after studying computer studies, he faced blatant racism. Though he was qualified, he could not get certain job opportunities because he was black. This harsh reality shifted their mindset and the brothers travelled to Africa for personal development.
Work in Ghana
Once in Africa, the brothers visited Ghana, Ethiopia, and the Gold Coast. Immediately, they were immersed in the culture and found ways to help African communities. The brothers purchased and donated land to the locals for them to farm survival crops. They built wells and donated solar panels to help to maintain these crops, which provided sustenance for many communities. This was all self-funded and was an unrecognised, unofficial non-profit effort; it was done solely out of the kindness of their hearts.
Through integration with the African people, the brothers learnt the terrain and were educated on the local herbs and their methods of dealing with them from an organic African perspective. "We helped to enhance the Africans' infrastructure, their production line and their outlook on their self-worth, and they, in turn, were giving us a wealth of knowledge in herb cultivation," Karibe explained.
The McKenzie brothers travelled back and forth between Baltimore and Africa, and soon they opened a small retail store in Baltimore called 'Marcus Garvey's UNIA'. Dwayne noted, "The store was to primarily enhance the awareness of the black American community of their own historic African culture. We sold African treasures we brought back from our trips, and when we could afford to give items away, we did. Gradually, we were being referred to as educators like our grandmother before us, and slowly we could see within our community black Americans embracing their African culture by wearing the very dashikis we brought home. Another initiative we took back from Africa was the desire to keep helping, and so we began to feed the homeless in downtown Baltimore on Sundays and it resonated with many community members who willingly joined in and even today, they continue with that great deed."
Back to Jamaica
"We were in Florida when we heard about the decriminalisation of cannabis in Jamaica, and our first thoughts were, this must be fake news. Then we said it's about time Rasta stop getting harassed for a little weed! Once we confirmed that they were not only decriminalised but setting up legislation for medical purposes, we thought licences would be limited to established big businesses, but they must let one or two 'regular people' get through. Within a week, we came to Jamaica to check it out," recalled Dwayne.
He continued: "'Once the conversation became a little more respectable around cannabis in Jamaica and the decriminalisation of cannabis, we decided to come home and became functional, forming a company, going through the processes and doing extensive research. The way the legislation was written and the way the business part of is going to unfold, it had the potential to exclude the Rastafarian people and the small farmers - the people who have really suffered for this plant throughout generations and generations. So, once we identified that, it motivated us to get involved where we could play an integral part ensuring that these people did not become disenfranchised."
Move to get cannabis licence
"There is something to be said about our Jamaican sun and our water, which are here organically. Coupled with the culture, and the music having that vibration and reputation, people are expecting and are looking forward to high-quality Jamaican herb. What we have is the love of the plant, which is a very spiritual plant, and an industry having that fundamental love for the plant, a love so deep and which has always been there, even under persecution. Having that foundation and love for the plant will show in the end result of our premium Jamaican product," said Dwayne. The brothers spent time in California improving their skills and familiarising themselves with the international systems and processes and different levels of extraction. They surrounded themselves with experts in the field, which gained them the knowledge they have brought to Jamaica.
CLA - Cannabis Licensing Authority
"Although the Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA) has got much backlash for being too slow, and (saying that) they are making a mess of everything, they have been given a basket to carry water, so to speak. However, we are living proof that if you are diligent with processes and pay attention to the details, the system can work for you. We have identified that many applicants don't pay attention to the fine details. We realised that this legislation was new to everyone and a new governing body was created, and they will get better as time goes by. Working with the CLA hand in hand and not having an antagonistic nor an argumentative mentality helped us tremendously. The CLA has been given a legislation and they have to perform within those guidelines, and they are doing a tremendous job. For anyone currently in the process, being asked for information back and forth, know that it is a tedious process';however, your response time will dictate how your application gets processed," explained Karibe.
One of the mandates of Epican is to ensure that the small farmers are protected. "Epican is designing a small farmer programme to help educate the farmers on how to cultivate cannabis at global standards. In years gone by, based on the ways ganja farmers have been forced to cultivate, it was not optimal. They went off the beaten path, high in the mountains, hiding from the police and under those conditions they did things in a certain way. If they had the freedom to cultivate and unleash their creativity, they would do it in a more sophisticated way. So, we are here to help them develop their farming skills on a sophisticated level so they can be a part of the global industry. To cultivate for the medical industry, cannabis needs to be cultivated at extremely high standards, and the small farmer who has been doing it for years does not necessarily have the infrastructure nor the funding to do that. So, we decided to set up our initial cultivation site and provide workshops" said Karibe.
Karibe continued: "Free workshops and ongoing training will begin and be done in a brand new environment which is a security-based system, and we will teach them. Our initial cultivation site is to help to develop their skills, and because of the guidelines of the CLA, these farmers need clearance and background checks. As a result, we are being very selective of the farmers in the various parts of the island that we reach out to."
The brothers are very excited about the unlimited potential of their new venture. And through it all, they have the words of their grandmother resonating in their heads, "You are here to be relevant".