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Jamaica must do the marijuana balancing act

Published:Tuesday | May 16, 2017 | 12:00 AMDr Andre Haughton
The Cannabis Tonic Wine marketed under the African Gardens Juices label.

The Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce hired BOTEC Analysis to conduct research and make recommendations regarding regulations for medical cannabis and industrial hemp to help promote Jamaican economic development, investment, and local job growth, while protecting public health and safety. The Jamaica Government amended the Dangerous Drugs Act (DDA) in April 2015 to decriminalise cannabis possession and legalise home cultivation for medicinal, spiritual and sacramental uses.


What is the purpose of the report?


BOTEC outlines that the report is intended to guide the Cannabis Licensing Authority and other relevant agencies and ministries as they conceptualise, discuss, and eventually manifest in law a policy for creating a licensed industry in medical cannabis and industrial hemp. According to BOTEC, not every policy component or idea can be fleshed out with complete details, especially where the Cannabis Licensing Authority has several options at stake and has yet to a commit to a single policy direction. In those cases, it will be up to the Cannabis Licensing Authority to get a full understanding of the needs of the country to properly put pen to paper, the details for a successful inclusive cannabis industry in Jamaica.


Balance act between satisfying international obligations and refraining from over-regulating


BOTEC emphasise that Jamaican policymakers will have to balance two competing goals: 1. satisfying international obligations, and 2. refraining from over-regulating the cannabis industry. "Satisfying international obligations requires certain levels of oversight and monitoring over licensed actors - but that, if done to excess, might lead to an overly complex set of rules that are difficult to comply with and enforce. That risks both raising the prices of medical cannabis to uneconomical levels and fostering a culture of non-compliance and corruption."


Big issue between what is medical and what is not?


BOTEC highlights that "the amendments to the DDA clearly legalises only medical cannabis, there remains significant leeway as to how strictly the regulations will emphasise the medical component. Medical cannabis regimes are not the same everywhere. Some are more medical than others. Some are more protective of public health and the prevention of harmful cannabis use, making it expensive to produce cannabis and difficult to access it."


'Market ganja to tourists ... but safely'


What is best type of regulatory framework for Jamaica?


The best type of regulatory framework that can increase efficiency and reduce unnecessary bureaucracy and corruption is that which is intended to minimise friction along the supply chain and between seller and prospective buyer. BOTEC suggests that perhaps the best route to recommend to Jamaica would be to market to tourists but only in safe and relatively uncontroversial ways. Export markets are worth exploring.


How should Jamaica approach the industry to achieve its goals and direction?


BOTEC made it clear that "Jamaica should not copy rules from other jurisdictions. Rather, it should craft policies according to local goals, needs, and capacities, just as other jurisdictions have." BOTEC explained that no single jurisdiction or country has sufficient experience regulating legal cannabis to establish what can be classified as the ideal regulatory framework. From Jamaica's point of view, BOTEC highlights that sample units; households, businesses and the Government want Jamaica to focus on exploring the full potential of the industry so that it might substantially increase the island's exports, increase tourism, and foreign currency inflow.


Legislative framework produces obstacles


What is the value of Jamaica's share of the industry?


From BOTEC's point of view, predicting the size of a new industry in any country and especially Jamaica is difficult. These estimates are always accompanied by a margin for error which increases with the cannabis industry, given its complex and rapidly changing legal and economic framework. Jamaica must first implement the correct regulatory framework to suit the trajectory of the global geo-economic environment, then forge linkages with countries that have legalised the use of cannabis oil, for example, our neighbours, Cayman Islands, have legalised the use of cannabis oil and are seeking bilateral arrangements. Given Jamaica's lacklustre approach to effectively legalisation, Caymanians who desire cannabis treatment will have to get it illegally from Jamaica or get it legally from faraway Canada. So realistically speaking, the trade-off for the patient in Cayman, for example, is the opportunity cost of getting illegal oil from Jamaica, which is less than half an hour away; or getting it legally from Canada, which is more than four hours away.

The current legislative framework poses significant obstacles to fostering a thriving export trade in cannabis products. BOTEC outlines that at present, few countries allow imports of medical cannabis, and even then, those markets are limited in size and often require extensive political lobbying and impressive demonstrations of product quality before they can be opened.