Companies and entrepreneurs eager to get their eyes on Jamaica’s long-promised regulations for the commercial export of cannabis will have to wait a while longer, due to COVID-19.
Just how long is unclear. The regulations were due to be made public at the end of April, after being announced as part of a targeted support program for small and medium-sized enterprises in various industries. However, officials at Jamaica’s Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture, and Fisheries told Cannabis Wire that they are unable to “commit to a date” by which the document would be published, debated in Parliament, and promulgated.
Audley Shaw, Minister of the Ministry, told Cannabis Wire that “work is still being done on having the regulations complete.” Much of it, he says, has already been done and is “due to be submitted to the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel.”
The delay was expected. Industry stakeholders told Cannabis Wire in March that the COVID-19 pandemic in the Caribbean could set the development of the industry across the islands back by at least a year in some cases.
Companies that have invested in Jamaica have acknowledged that the regulatory delays and the overall uncertainty in the international cannabis industry are causing concerns. The Canadian cannabis company The Green Organic Dutchman, for example, which has partnered with Epican Medicinals in Jamaica, cited market conditions on the island in its March financial statements as forcing the company to revise its near-term and long-term growth forecasts and to forgo the expansion of its proposed cultivation activities for export in Jamaica, in order to focus on its Canadian operations.
Sean Bovingdon, the company’s chief financial officer, told investors in a conference call in March that it was unlikely that the company would be able to recoup, in the near-term, roughly C$4 million ($3 million USD) it had invested in Jamaica.
Despite the lack of progress on export regulations, government officials point with pride to other moves they have made to strengthen the cannabis industry, including Jamaica’s role as a member of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), where it was elected last May to serve for a four-year term, until 2023. They say that the country’s leadership at the CND, where it continues to promote and lobby for having cannabis reclassified as a medicine, demonstrates the country’s commitment to the industry.
At the CND’s 63rd Session in Vienna in March, Jamaica was one of the countries to advocate for the cannabis rescheduling that had been proposed by the World Health Organization (WHO) Expert Committee on Drug Dependence. (Read Cannabis Wire’s coverage of the meeting, and the postponed vote on rescheduling.)
“We firmly believe that there is scope for work to be undertaken, within the global drug control framework, which encourages pioneering solutions aimed at ensuring the availability of and access to controlled substances for medical and scientific purposes while preventing their diversion,” a statement issued by its delegation said, reiterating the country’s position that the international drug control architecture should be reconfigured to allow for appropriate domestic policies suited to unique social and economic challenges.
The statement arrives in the context of the work done by Jamaica’s Cannabis Licensing Authority, which is looking to boost the industry post-pandemic. Parts of its plan to do so includes the export of cannabis for scientific purposes under the country’s current regulations. This included the export of 10 kilograms of medical cannabis from Jamaica into Canada last year by Global Canna Labs and Kaya Farms, owners of Jamaica’s first legal medical cannabis dispensary, and the export in February of cannabidiol (CBD) oil and other products to the Cayman Islands.
“We are a forward-thinking organization,” Felicia Bailey, the Director of Research Development and Communications at Jamaica’s Cannabis Licensing Authority, told Cannabis Wire. Concerning cannabis for research, Bailey said, “Even now, our licensees are able to export by coming to us with import permits from the country they wish to export to and we do what is required to facilitate that.”
Once the commercial import and export regulations are promulgated, “we will be ready to facilitate that as well,” she added.
The Bureau of Standards Jamaica has also been tasked with providing training around quality control standards and testing at discounted rates to emerging cannabis and hemp producers under this year’s budget. The budget also includes a cut in export-related fees, which will enable more businesses to tap into the export market and boost international competitiveness.
These services, according to Bailey, will facilitate further growth in the industry locally ahead of the increased interest from international entities that the Authority anticipates after the commercial export regulations are made public.
Over the course of the last financial year—April 2019 to March 2020—Jamaica’s Cannabis Licensing Authority reported upwards of US$1 million in trade between its sixty licensees, according to Bailey. This figure represents, for example, goods traded between a cultivator and a medical cannabis dispensary, commonly referred to as herb houses, but excludes sales at those herb houses. The country has also recently sought to redirect indigenous or traditional farmers into an expanded 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.