Ganja interests wary of internal business rivalry
Neville Graham, Business Reporter
Despite strong ministerial and legislative signals, segments of the marijuana lobby are unsure that sufficient protections will be afforded to the persons who currently supply the raw material.
The challenges of integration for a product that is currently sold underground, as well as product contamination, were key elements of the discussions last week when ganja growers, researchers and lobbyists gathered at the Jamaica Conference Centre with government officials, including four ministers, at the Cannabis Business and International Investors Conference.
"The participation of so many ministers here today is a clear indicator of how important the Government views the opportunity to support the development of yet another game-changing industry," said Minister of Industry Investment and Commerce Anthony Hylton, who was supported by Minister of Justice Mark Golding, Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining Phillip Paulwell, and Minister of Health Dr Fenton Ferguson.
Golding assured the conference that Jamaica was putting landmark legislative framework in place that recognises that "ganja remains as prevalent in Jamaica as it ever was; perhaps more so".
Paulwell recognised the worry especially among ganja entrepreneurs and sought to allay their fears by weighing in on the business prospects.
"I believe that for the first time, we as a country can engage in an economic activity that has full support across the political divide, that can mobilise all our people that wish to participate, and that rather than seeing ourselves as competitors I want us to see ourselves as collaborators to cooperate because, trust me, if you plant out every square inch of this country in ganja, there is a bigger market out there for us," Paulwell declared to thunderous applause.
Despite these assurances there was a healthy dose of scepticism from growers who see themselves as in danger of being turfed out of the ganja market.
Secretary and business manager of the Westmoreland Hemp and Ganja Farmers Association, Tristan Thompson, pressed the ministers and CEO of Medicanja Jamaica, Dr Henry Lowe, about the potential of value-added producers taking control of all aspects of the production process, including raw material inputs and distribution.
Thompson feels that if a company like Medicanja, for example, were to invest in the production side - the marijuana fields - in addition to producing nutraceuticals and drugs from the weed, that would cut small farmers of the market.
He called for Government to place limits on vertical integration by requiring a producer to acquire a percentage, say, 70 per cent, of their inputs from small farmers.
Lowe, a researcher and scientist, assured ganja growers that he was not interested in raw material production, saying it would divert attention and resources from his core business of developing products from ganja.
Ministers Golding and Hylton said they would take the farmers' concern into consideration.
On the question of product contamination, conference participants advised against planting hemp, saying cross-pollination could reduce the potency of Jamaica's world-renowned varieties of ganja.
Rastafarian philosopher and ganja lobbyist, Ras Iyah V, warned that the Jamaica was too small to accommodate hemp fields along with ganja cultivations, saying the closeness of the fields would lower quality.
The Cannabis Business and International Investors Conference was spread over two days, January 28-29. A similar confab was held in May 2014 at the University of the West Indies.