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Orange Hill added to ganja pilot - Green issues call for all illegal growers to emerge from the shadows

Published:Sunday | July 21, 2019 | 12:11 AMNeville Graham - Business Reporter
Ganja advocate Verald ‘Ras Iyah V’ Vassel.
Ganja advocate Verald ‘Ras Iyah V’ Vassel.

Illegal growers of marijuana are being offered the opportunity to formalise their operations through the Alternative Development programme under construction by the MICAF, which is meant to create a supply chain for the medical marijuana and pharma market.

The Ministry of Commerce, Industry, Agriculture & Fisheries, MICAF, is targeting all growers, which appear to number in the hundreds, but has no means of assessing what the precise number is right now, according to State Minister Floyd Green.

Cultivators of the weed at Orange Hill in Westmoreland, who say they are tired of hiding from the police, are looking to become the second group in a two-part pilot project by the ministry to test its programme.

Their numbers amount to just over 100 farmers, while the Accompong pilot includes 100 growers on 10 acres of land.

The Orange Hill area covers communities such as Brighton, Negril Spot, Revival, and Mount Airy, and is said by marijuana industry insiders to have developed a reputation among ganja-seeking tourists as the place to source potent seedless ganja.

Ganja advocate Verald Vassel, popularly known as Ras Iyah V, says he has been lobbying for the programme since early 2016. Vassel, who is a member of the Cannabis Licensing Authority, CLA, board, says the farmers are interested in formalising because under the status quo they are subjected to consistent police raids.

Moving ahead

Although the ministry is currently moving ahead with the first pilot under an arrangement struck with the Maroons of Accompong Town in St Elizabeth, Vassel was sceptical that the pilot arrangement for Orange Hill will happen.

“It is not until I see this programme implemented can I say that I have any faith in their words,” he said.

Still, Green is insisting that MICAF is serious about regularising informal growers, and that while the programme had its challenges, the Accompong Town arrangement was an indication that Government was now in a position to proceed.

For Orange Hill, one of the hold-ups has been access to land. Vassel said 100 acres of property was identified, but it was part of a larger 320-acre parcel and therefore considered unworkable, due to considerations regarding security and the difficulties subdividing the land.

Green says MICAF is seeking an alternative site and expects to have that wrapped up within days.

“We hope we can finalise those options by the end of July, and once we do that then I see an easy passage, because they were far advanced along with Accompong, except that they had the land challenge,” the state minister said.

In the meantime, Green is also urging other groups to come out of the shadows.

“I want to say to community groups, ‘don’t be afraid to approach the Cannabis Licensing Authority, say that you have a group and that you’re interested in the programme’. You can also approach MICAF and we will mobilise our team to come to you. We will do an initial sensitization to let you know what it entails and we’ll see how we can get it done,” he said.

“The idea is to get Orange Hill up and running and then assess both programmes. We’ll start a process of engagement with other communities where we know there are some of the principles that we’re looking for,” Green added.

MICAF is investing $12 million in the programme, but says it is prepared to allocate more resources, if needed.

Vassel is anxious for the ­programme to work. He could not resist noting the irony of the market’s evolution under legalisation.

“We are coming from a time when ganja was associated with ‘di likkle dutty people dem’, so to speak. Now we are setting up an industry where it is white collar people who stand to benefit – the very same people who used to fight against it,” he said. “That cannot be.”