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From energy to cannabis - Gibbs inks distribution deals for medicinal ganja products

Published:Friday | May 4, 2018 | 12:00 AMJanet Silvera
T'Shura Gibbs, CEO of Zimmer & Company.

Montego Bay businesswoman T'Shura Gibbs describes her transition from energy to medicinal cannabis as a leap of faith.

"I just decided to jump. The parachute had to open before I hit the ground; there was no Plan B," said the former Jamaica Public Service executive-turned-entrepreneur, weeks after signing contracts with various operators to distribute a range of medicinal cannabis products represented by her firm.

Gibbs, who is the outgoing president of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and who spent the last five years at JPS, where she served as western regional director, now runs Zimmer & Company.

Zimmer operates as the representatives of various products sourced in three countries - Israel, Czech Republic, and the United States. Gibbs distributes the products locally under the brand name xCan21, but would not say precisely how much she has put into the venture, describing her investment only as being in the millions.

She said Zimmer has struck distribution agreements with Kaya Inc, wellness expert Dr Anthony Vendryes of Montego Bay, and pharmacies.

Three weeks ago, the company's first shipment of hemp-based cosmetics, which includes a vaginal suppository for period cramps, pain topical ointment, nutrient supplement tablet, body lotion, day and night cream, and Vape pens - the latest versions of e-cigarettes - arrived on the island.

Gibbs and her team of four are hoping to partner with a local manufacturing plant to produce xCan21 products here.

Jamaica's cannabis industry is in its nascent phase. The market is overseen by the Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA), but Gibbs said her approvals came from the health ministry.

"Our licences are from the Ministry of Health for importation and distribution of our products," she told the Financial Gleaner on Friday. "We are the distributors for the manufacturers we represent out of the Czech Republic, Israel, and the USA."

She named the respective foreign manufacturers as XMed21, Better 21, and Vape Company.

Gibbs insists it's time to centre the conversation about marijuana on distribution of products that have had years of research done on them.

"While we are talking about cultivation, worldwide, the talk is about the vast industry of cannabis products that have been researched and proven to work," Gibbs said, noting that the American state of Colorado alone made US$150 million from medicinal cannabis in 2015, while globally the market is estimated at US$70 billion to US$80 billion.

"There is enough room in the industry for everyone to make money," she said.

The annual cannabis conference last year, the CanEx Jamaica Business Conference & Expo, brought together high-level professionals as well as the Ministry of Health, discussing opportunities for investment and medical development.

"The ministry's presentation was on how to introduce new products to the market, so we followed those procedures to get registered," said the businesswoman.

Gibbs says she is already getting enquiries from various companies, predominantly in the wider Caribbean region, wanting to invest or carry xCan21 products. A recent visit to Colombia saw her meeting with the country's head of narcotics and Ministry of Health officials, as well as university leaders.

Excited about the opportunities that exist for "all" the players in the industry, Gibbs says Jamaica must ensure its market structure allows everyone to benefit - "from the farmers to the extractors, to the transporters, to the manufacturer, distributor, research and development teams, suppliers, doctors, and pharmacists".

Gibbs, who managed nearly 300 staff at JPS, although she is working with a much smaller team at Zimmer, said the industry is fast-paced and her foreign partners give her the energy and encouragement she needs.

"They are responsive. They move, they act, and they do what they say they are going to do. It's a lot of learning for me," said the businesswoman, who grew up in the airline industry, where she spent 20 years in various leadership roles.

Aside from Zimmer & Company, Gibbs is also involved in real estate as managing director of Northwest Development, which is based in Ironshore, Montego Bay.

The team helping her to manoeuvre her latest venture includes Canex's Douglas Gordon, who serves as chairman and attorney, and Adam Burton of Smoker's Guide, California.