Releaf Magazine

Jamaica Looking To Cash In On Cannabis

xxjamaica-web-master768Jamaica, Long Opposed to Marijuana, Now Wants to Cash In on It

The New York Times - By. Azam Ahmed - 10/01/2016

MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica — Jamaica has long bemoaned its reputation as the land of ganja.

It has enforced draconian drug laws and spent millions on public education to stem its distinction as a pot mecca. But its role as a major supplier of illicit marijuana to the United States and its international image — led by the likes of Bob Marley, whose Rastafarian faith considers smoking up a religious act — have been too strong to overcome.

Now, its leaders smell something else: opportunity.

Having watched states like Colorado and California generate billions of dollars from marijuana, Jamaica has decided to embrace its herbaceous brand.

Rather than arresting and shunning the country’s Rasta population, the Jamaican authorities will leverage it. Beyond decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana last year, Jamaica has legalized the use of medical marijuana, with its ultimate sights set on “wellness tourism” and the font of money it could bring.

And for good reason: Jamaica has one of the lowest economic growth ratesin the developing world, a striking contrast to the global success its citizens have enjoyed in the worlds of sports and music.

So, having done just about everything experts say a stupendously indebted nation should do — sticking to austere fiscal plans, adopting prudent macroeconomic policies and creating a friendly climate for outside investors — Jamaica is adding marijuana to its arsenal.

The new world order has brought together an odd assortment of characters. At a recent conference at a luxury hotel in Montego Bay, besuited government officials and business leaders mingled with pot farmers and Rastafarian leaders like First Man, who kicked off the conference with a speech on the global benefits of ganja.

“We are talking about a plant that bridges the gap between all of our relationships,” First Man, barefoot with a Rasta scarf around his neck, said to a packed room. “Our planet needs this relationship to happen.

As the head of a Rastafarian village in Jamaica, First Man was speaking at the first CanEx conference, a gathering of government and local leaders trying to figure out just how the country can most effectively make this about-face, without neglecting international law.

No one is really clear how the industry will evolve. Technically, the United Nations convention on drugs — which requires nations to limit the production, trade, use and possession of drugs — still prevails, meaning that outright federal legalization is, well, illegal.

But with the United States and Canada edging toward permitting the drug’s use, Jamaica wants in, too.

“In the past, the United States really left no room for maneuver,” said Mark Golding, the former minister of justice who developed the legislation to permit medical marijuana production in Jamaica. “But with the Obama administration creating an opportunity for states to do what they wanted to, it created a window for all of us.”

“Where the real market is, and where the real money is, remains to be seen,” he added. “We are all just preparing for it.”

For some, society is at the beginning of a post-Prohibition era, much as it was with alcohol decades ago, when global brands and untold billions were still to be made.

That’s still a long way off. Jamaica began legalizing the use of medical marijuana last year, but has so far granted only a few licenses to cultivate marijuana for research purposes. No one, as yet, has sold any product legally, but the government is gearing up to meet whatever market presents itself.

“Jamaica for so long has been associated with this plant,” said the conference organizer, Doug Gordon. “Now, it’s a business, an opportunity, one that can change the future of this country through jobs and income, one that can change our G.D.P.”

Of course, all of this has stoked fears of inequality for poor rural farmers, who have long been targeted for doing exactly what the country is now trying to take advantage of. Many fear that big money will come in, monopolize the industry and leave those on the margins exactly where it found them.

Iyah V, a Rastafarian leader who sits on the nation’s nascent licensing authority, summed up concerns by pointing to the many suits and relatively few Rastas at the conference.

“If we are not organized, and are not helped, the possibility exists for the ganja industry to become the next tourism, coffee or sugar industry, where our people are used as common laborers and the wealth is confined to a few,” he said.

Jamaican leaders say they are trying to heed the warning. Most agree there should be access to capital for small farmers, as well as breaks on expensive licensing fees and other upfront costs. But those, too, are yet to be determined. Even entrepreneurs agree that the playing field is not a level one.

Varun Baker, a well-traveled and educated entrepreneur, has started Ganjagram, an application where users can read up on the laws regarding marijuana in Jamaica. Ultimately, he hopes to make it something of an Uber for marijuana smokers, allowing clients to order and select products for delivery through their phones.

He is searching for partners and investors to help fund his ambitions, but the pitch remains difficult.

“There is lots of gray area,” Mr. Baker said. “People don’t really understand what the government is doing.”

Bali Vaswani, by contrast, is a prominent businessman in Jamaica who has created several brands, including Marley Brand Coffee on behalf of Marley’s family. He is already working with a research license and last month harvested the first crop of legal marijuana in Jamaica.

He is not only clear on the rules in place now, but is in a position to help shape those to come. He has ample capital to invest and business know-how, specifically in the marijuana industry in Colorado, so it is hard to imagine how he will not dominate the market here when it finally does open up.

“I’m trying to bring a corporate structure to this, and do my part to build Brand Jamaica,” he said. “I’ve been given a set of rules, and all I do is follow it. It’s not beneficial to knock the rules.”

To date, there has been a lot of knocking of the rules. In fact, farmers, Rastafarians and academics have joined forces to slow the transformation underway, fearing small farmers will be railroaded.

Kadamawe Knife, a Rastafarian academic, spent a significant portion of his presentation at the conference bashing the Cannabis Licensing Authority, the government’s regulatory apparatus for ganja.

“How do we make money on this? What is the growth strategy?” he asked, directing his questions to a member of the licensing authority who was awkwardly sharing the stage with him. “I have asked, and I haven’t seen anything.”

The licensing authority member, Delano Seiveright, took the accusations and jabs onstage with aplomb. Afterward, he said Dr. Knife had made some good points. But it did not change the fact that Jamaica was desperate for the funds that cannabis could provide.

To claw its way back to prosperity and pay back one of the worst ratios of debt to gross domestic product in the world, the country is adhering to a strict austerity regime set out by the International Monetary Fund, which has meant little public spending in the last few decades.

Now, leaders are desperate to find any means to expand the economy. And for some officials, earning the money quickly and efficiently means allowing the market to determine the winners, a strategy that favors those with resources.

“Ultimately it’s going to be hard to stop it,” Mr. Seiveright said. “And we don’t necessarily want to stop it. We have adopted the principles of capitalism, but we also believe that small farmers should have a leg up for a certain amount of time.”

Orville Silvera, the head of an association that represents about 2,000 marijuana growers and was formed with the government’s blessing, worries that big money will get concessions for huge amounts of acreage, boxing out the smaller farmers toiling away on a few acres.

But he is not opposed to survival of the fittest — so long as the farmers who have been growing their ganja in the shadows for decades get a fair shot.

“We want to build this from the ground up,” he said. “Let those among us who can do it expand.”

“The others,” he said, “can fail.”

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Jamaican me wanna go

CLA to accept applications for ganja licenses on April 4

Jamaican_patties_and_redstripeKINGSTON, Jamaica — The Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA) has announced that it will be ready to accept applications for ganja licenses for Monday, April 4, 2016.

The regulations that will allow for the granting of licenses have now been drafted and are currently being reviewed ahead of finalisation and approval, which is expected in the next two weeks, a news release from the Cannabis Licensing Authority said Monday.

The regulations, according to the release, will immediately allow for the publishing of application forms as well as the furnishing of information to potential licensees on eligibility criteria and the terms and conditions of licenses.

“Under the regulations, 11 types of licenses across five main categories will be made available to interested persons – cultivator, transportation, processing, retailing, and R&D – ensuring coverage over the entire value chain for the medicinal marijuana industry,” the release stated. “The regulations make special provisions for small farmers, cooperatives, and small-scale processors to participate in the industry with distinct requirements and licensing fee structures in place.
“Residency requirements and local participation in companies have also been included as a critical component of participation in this nascent industry,” the release continued. “Licenses will also be available for importation for research under conditions stipulated by the CLA.

jamaicaThe CLA said as a special concession to ensure the participation of small growers in the new industry, it will waive the upfront payment of licensing fees for this category of licensee for the first year of operations.

Once the interim regulations have been agreed, the Authority says it will continue its consultations, including the hosting of a series of town-hall meetings across the island, where it hopes to gather additional information to refine the licensing regime and build-out the full industry management framework that will underpin the emergence of Jamaica’s new, legal ganja industry. With this done, the Authority says it expects to be able to put forward an expanded and more comprehensive set of regulations by May 2016 that will seek to address other areas of the industry.

“We made a commitment to the people of Jamaica that the cannabis industry would be in place by the end of the fiscal year, and we will meet that commitment,” said Dr Andre Gordon, chairman of the CLA.

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Jamaica considers marijuana legalization and production

Rastafarians revere marijuana, or ganja as they call it, and smoke it regularly.

The Jamaican cabinet has approved a bill that legalizes the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

It means that for the first time the country's Rastafarian community, which uses the herb for religious purposes, could be able to smoke it legally.

The bill also envisages a licensing authority for the cultivation, sale and distribution of marijuana for medical and therapeutic purposes.

It goes to the senate this week for approval.

The bill also proposes that the smoking of marijuana will be banned in public spaces.

Decriminalization spreading
South and Central America and the Caribbean countries have been battling the impact of drug trafficking and drug use for decades.

Cocaine and marijuana produced in the region is transported through many countries, their citizens turned into consumers by the trade.

But the BBC's Candace Piette says that as trafficking and drug consumption have continued to grow, many governments have begun to recognize that heavy-handed tactics and the crackdown on drugs has failed.

Elsewhere in the region:

• In Mexico, Colombia and Argentina marijuana possession in small amounts was decriminalized a few years ago, and Argentina is drafting a set of proposals to loosen restrictions on possession
• In Guatemala, President Otto Perez Molina is proposing moves to push for the legalization of marijuana and potentially other drugs
• Chile and Costa Rica are also debating the introduction of medical marijuana policies
• Uruguay last year became the first country in the world to approve the growth, sale and distribution of marijuana



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What do you suppose they are waiting for??

Jamaica to Look Again at Decriminalizing Marijuana


by Phillip Smith,

Ten years ago, Jamaica's government-appointed National Commission on Ganja produced a report calling for marijuana decriminalization, which the Jamaican government, under pressure from the US, promptly forgot about. But now, the government of Prime Minister Bruce Golding has announced that it will again review those recommendations.

According to the Associated Press, the decision was announced Monday in Kingston. Six cabinet ministers will review the 2001 report.

That report, which was authored by academics and physicians, found that pot smoking was "culturally entrenched" in the island nation and that most moderate users suffered no ill effects. While it called for decriminalization, ominous rumblings from the US Embassy in Kingston at the time ensured that the notion died a quiet death.

Ganja has broad public acceptance in Jamaica, where it is considered a sacrament by adherents of Rastafarianism. But its possession or cultivation is illegal under Jamaican law.

The Rev. Webster Edwards, who was a commission member, told the Associated Press Tuesday he was relieved that the report would be reviewed by cabinet members and that he hoped the review would eventually lead to loosening the marijuana laws. That would require legislative action.

"There have been many persons who have been lifelong smokers of ganja who have not moved to harder drugs at all," Edwards said. "Decriminalizing very, very small quantities will allow persons not to get strikes against them in the justice system."

The US has long worked with Jamaican authorities to eradicate marijuana cultivation and smuggling from Jamaica to the US. Embassy officials told the AP Tuesday that they did not know why the Jamaican government was taking up the issue, but that it was an internal affair.

"Whatever the impetus, it's an internal Jamaican issue, and we therefore don't comment on either the debate or the outcome," Embassy spokeswoman Yolonda Kerney said.

Has enough changed in the past decade for the Jamaican government to actually move forward on the ganja commission recommendations this time? Let's hope so.

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