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Weed Ed | Four must-dos for Jamaica’s cannabis industry success

Published:Monday | April 29, 2019 | 12:00 AM

For the past 30 weeks, WeedEd has been exploring the intricacies of Jamaica’s new cannabis industry. The mission was simple: educate ourselves on cannabis and the opportunities it presents and elevate our thinking about what cannabis can mean to our society.

Today is the final feature in the series, and one thing has stood out above all others, and that is the need for a more efficient way of working by all the stakeholders.

Cannabis’ transition from an illicit trade to a regulated one, public perception steeped in propaganda, and its shutout from the banking sector are all major hurdles being faced locally and globally. To transcend all that, the industry regulators must be focused and strategic while striking a balance between good business sense and obligations to international laws.

For this final feature, WeedEd spoke to several industry insiders about which priorities would best position Jamaica for long-term growth and success in the weed business.

Standards, Standards, Standards

The creation and enforcement of operating standards that guide how the industry is run from seed to sale is the bedrock of any cannabis industry. These standards speak to numerous things such as how cannabis is cultivated, harvested, and stored; how nutrients and insecticides are applied; and the quality-control parameters in which production takes place.

The Bureau of Standards Jamaica is currently leading a multiagency committee to establish these standards, which will provide credibility and authority to the local industry. Those standards, however, must reflect those of potential importing nations with the highest ranked being EU-GMP certification.

Founding chairman of the Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA), Dr Andre Gordon, says technical and scientific support for the sector should be implemented as a regulatory tool. As an example, he noted that “there are no internationally accredited cannabis testing labs here and it must be given a priority”.

“Without this capability, how are we going to support the export market and meet the requirements of importing countries?” questioned Gordon.

Consultant psychiatrist and member of the CARICOM Commission on Marijuana Prof Wendel Abel says that he would like to see better collaboration between the CLA and the Ministry of Health. From a medical standpoint, he believes that there is too much of a gray area as to how doctors are expected to operate in the space and inconsistencies in labelling.

“And this is, of course, important because we have to protect the public and the industry. We need to be certain that the products are safe for consumption,” Abel said.

Export model

A properly regulated industry paves the way for export to become possible. While two local cannabis companies have reportedly exported cannabis in some form in the past year, these appear to have been special arrangements facilitated by the Government as a way to keep local investors optimistic and to gain interest from the international market.

The CLA is currently drafting an export framework to be tabled in Parliament.

If done right, the export market can prove to be a winner as Jamaican cannabis is highly coveted.

Protecting and promoting Jamaica’s ganja brand

In the global cannabis industry, Jamaica already has one of the most sought-after assets: brand equity. With reggae and Rastafari as the vehicles since the 1960s, locally grown ganja is considered premium and among the best. A marketing model built around traditional ganja farming and local cannabis strains provides a competitive advantage to an already receptive market.

And one way to protect this market is through intellectual property (IP). IP such as geographic indications puts tools in place to maximise the earning potential from cannabis varieties cultivated in the island’s various micro-climates, which have been identified as ideal for cannabis cultivation.

Ras Byah, cannabis entrepreneur and a member of RAGGA, a group representing all the Rastafari mansions, says that traditional farmers are eager to contribute to the regulated industry through knowledge sharing but that economic exclusion has been a concern.

“All those countries that don’t have the environment to cultivate tropical plants, they can benefit from Jamaica and from the traditional farmers’ expertise,” Ras Byah said. “We have a lot of different local strains we have been holding on to for years, so we want to engage the Government about how we now earn from these strains that have been acclimatised to our environment.”

Active public education

With cannabis being decriminalised, a gap has been created between the people who work in the industry and everyone else. Many persons’ perception of weed is still being governed by the stigmas created during its prohibition over the past 100 years. This is costly as many persons could be denying themselves the opportunity of holistic healing.

“I’d like to see a comprehensive approach to educating the market both for consumers and stakeholders,” said Douglas Gordon, founder and CEO of CanEx Jamaica, a cannabis business conference and expo. “If the public perception of cannabis is not addressed, it makes the adoption of the industry longer and more difficult.”

The education campaign should include the rights allowed to each citizen under the 2015 Amendment to the Dangerous Drugs Act, the proven medicinal treatments of cannabis, and how investors can join the industry and what they should expect in the application process. A bigger vision also needs to be communicated on how cannabis can potentially address related social issues.

Decades from now, humans will look back at the prohibition of cannabis as a dark period in the history of modern civilisation. Think about it. Most of the world believes that cannabis is dangerous because a century ago, a group of influential people decided it should be so without any evidence to support that belief. As the veil is slowly lifted and cannabis’ true worth becomes more apparent, the focus now shifts from drug control to medical and economic gains – the way it was originally.