The Jamaican government has announced plans aimed at bringing hundreds of indigenous and traditional farmers into the country’s promising medical cannabis industry.
On January 14, the government announced plans to aggressively expand the country’s Alternative Development Programme, which provides farmers with the technical and financial support they need to enter the legal cannabis industry, with the aim of eliminating the illicit cultivation of cannabis. At the same time, officials announced a transitional licensing regime that would waive fees and dramatically reduce the cost these farmers face upon entry into the industry.
The moves, according to Floyd Green, the Minister of State in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture, and Fisheries, mark a shift in the regulatory framework governing the cannabis industry on the island, where the introduction of long-awaited import and export regulations are also expected before the end of the island’s fiscal year in March.
“What we will be doing in 2020, is looking for more community groups of traditional growers that we will engage and provide the technical support for them to transition into the medicinal marijuana industry,” Green said, addressing the House of Representatives on January 14.
A spokesperson for the Ministry told Cannabis Wire that a pilot for the Alternative Development Programme, which cost the state just under USD $100,000 to implement in the second half of 2019, has already seen approximately twenty kilograms of cannabis flowers sold into the medicinal cannabis industry from a communal site in Accompong, a historical Maroon village in the East of the island populated by the descendants of Africans that escaped slavery in the early 1700s.
Jamaica’s Alternative Development Programme, if fully implemented, along with the publishing of import and export regulations, would be a major step forward for the island, and would encourage investors, many of whom are wary of further delays in the publishing of the regulations, first promised at the beginning of 2019.
The effects of a transitional licensing programme, which would reduce the requirements to enter the legal industry, would be two-fold. First, it would significantly increase the supply of legal cannabis flower, which would then be trackable within the Cannabis Licensing Authority’s seed-to-sale ecosystem. And second, it would provide a viable path for people who have participated in the cultivation of cannabis for decades and are trapped in the illicit market with no capital to enter the legal framework.
Illicit cannabis production has been a longstanding issue for Jamaican authorities, with 37,000 acres of cannabis illegally farmed each year.
Joan Webley, a Jamaican intellectual property law attorney and the president of Itopia Life, a licensed medical cannabis cultivator, processor, and retailer, believes that expansion of the Alternative Development Programme is a step in the right direction. However, she has called on the government to take additional steps, such as the introduction of the regulated production and sale of other cannabis-based products, such as edibles, and the commercialization of confiscated cannabis by selling it to licensees to process (after quality control testing), to maximize on the industry’s financial potential.
What matters more than the amount of money being invested into the industry is the Jamaican government’s ability to craft programs “that allow for the meaningful integration of small, traditional, and Rastafarian farmers into the wider economic conversation,” Webley, who is also a member of Jamaica’s Bureau of Standards’ Technical Committee on Cannabis Standards, told Cannabis Wire.
According to Webley, diversifying the range of products Jamaica produces and the ability to export those products are key elements in protecting the country’s intellectual property and developing the industry.
“It is especially frustrating for me as a licensed producer,” Webley said, of current limitations on product types and export. “It’s not that it is not happening, it’s just that we can’t be a part of it.”
“When you look internationally and you see so many products being advertised using references to Jamaican culture and we can’t produce those, we can’t export those, and it is really ironic.”
Douglas Gordon, an entrepreneur and the founder of CanEX, a business conference that attracts foreigners to invest in Jamaica’s cannabis industry, agrees that the ability to export is a critical hurdle that the industry must overcome in order to advance. Gordon added that investors in Asia, Europe, and other regions have shown interest in Jamaica and the Caribbean.
Jamaica has become somewhat of a Caribbean oasis for international investors in the region. The island is touting such things as a research and development partnership with the Harvard International Phytomedicines and Medical Cannabis Institute (read Cannabis Wire’s coverage here), as well as a flood of larger Canadian cannabis companies seeking stakes in the early stages of the industry. According to data reviewed by Cannabis Wire from the country’s Cannabis Licensing Authority, close to 500 hundred jobs have been created as a result of the granting of just fifty-seven licenses as of the end of December. Nearly 300 additional applications await full approval.
“The ability to export will do wonders for the industry including its investors,” Gordon told Cannabis Wire. “What I have seen, however, is that almost every challenge we have experienced in Jamaica has been similar to what has happened in other markets. We have to remember that whether it be the inclusion of small farmers or the ability to export all of these are early hurdles in the establishment of a dynamic, expansive and sustainable industry.”