Jamaican regulators are hoping to mitigate the impact of delays in the release of its final commercial cannabis import and export licensing regulations—which were due in April but delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic—and have put forth temporary regulations to smooth the way for entrepreneurs and investors.
These include establishing interim cannabis export and import guidelines, and allowing for online medical cannabis sales amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Jamaica’s Ministry of Industry, Agriculture, and Fisheries says that these protocols will be in place while the Ministry waits for the third draft of its import and export regulations for medicinal cannabis to be reviewed by the country’s Ministry of Justice and Parliamentary Counsel.
The Ministry of Industry, Agriculture, and Fisheries hopes the series of interim measures will provide a much-needed boost to its current medical cannabis licensees, while shoring up confidence in the island’s emerging medical cannabis industry. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to lowered production levels, as well as lower sales and profit margins, due to social distancing and the increased cost of doing business.
Following a virtual town hall held by the Ministry and Jamaica Agricultural Society last week, titled “COVID-19: Recovery Strategies for Agriculture and Food,” the country’s Cannabis Licensing Authority, which falls under the Ministry’s umbrella, announced interim regulations to facilitate the export, import, transit, and transshipment of cannabis by licensees. The rules guarantee export authorizations to any cultivator or processor able to acquire an import license in countries where the use of the plant is legal for medical or adult use purposes—after meeting the requirements of Jamaica’s published interim measures and the Bureau of Standards Code of Practice for the cultivation and handling of cannabis.
In effect, the Authority says the efforts will preserve the business interests of current licensees while helping others establish similar external relationships.
Officials told Cannabis Wire that there was an increased economic incentive to pivot licensees towards the export market, citing the need to capitalize on the current levels of interest in Jamaica as a source for cannabis products and a destination for investment.
Regional factors loom large as well, with Jamaica wanting to stay ahead of other Caribbean islands, many of whom have recently enacted various forms of cannabis reform that may attract investors.
The proposed Dangerous Drugs Regulations 2020, the legislation that will eventually govern Jamaica’s cannabis import and export licensing regime, is near completion ahead of being published, debated in Parliament, and promulgated, following broad consultations with stakeholders.
“There are still many external challenges for small countries to maneuver in the medicinal cannabis space. We, however, continue to work to strengthen our industry and take our rightful place,” Floyd Green, the minister of state in the Ministry of Industry, Agriculture, and Fisheries, said in a statement sent to Cannabis Wire.
The interim measures, according to Green, are part of a wider plan to “work to incorporate more of our traditional growers” and indigenous producers into the industry while “reducing entry requirements” along with other barriers.
Since November 2018, he said, the Cannabis Licensing Authority has issued a total of fifteen export authorizations to seven licensees. However, the majority of the exports that have taken place have been for scientific purposes. So far, only Kaya Farms, owners of Jamaica’s first legal medical cannabis dispensary, has stated that it made an export for commercial purposes—a shipment of cannabidiol (CBD) oil and other products to the Cayman Islands, in February.
All of the fifteen export authorizations granted so far, according to the Chief Executive Officer of the Authority, Lincoln Allen, are in line with global drug control treaties, and the Cannabis Licensing Authority “stands ready to facilitate the export of cannabis and its extracts by its licensees as long as the Authority is satisfied that the licensee has met all of those requirements.”
On a more local level, officials say they are also working to ensure business continuity amidst the COVID-19 pandemic as well. Such measures include giving cannabis dispensaries— commonly referred to as “herb houses” in Jamaica—the right to sell online to registered patients.
The Cannabis Licensing Authority “is cognizant of the far-reaching effects of the pandemic and remains vigilant and proactive in taking steps to secure the industry,” said the Authority’s Director of Enforcement and Monitoring, Faith Graham.
In consultation with the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture, and Fisheries, the Authority has framed guidelines that allow online sales of medical cannabis to qualified patients, who can then pick up their products at licensed retail facilities.The interim rules provide an option to minimize the length of time spent in such licensed facilities, in an effort to limit potential exposure of staff and patients to COVID-19.
According to the Cannabis Licensing Authority, in order to purchase medicinal cannabis from a herb house, patients must have previously visited and registered with the herb house. Under the interim protocol, licensees are required to provide patient-related documents, including patients’ government-issued photo identifications and valid recommendations from a registered medical practitioner, to the Cannabis Licensing Authority at stipulated intervals.
As Cannabis Wire previously reported, 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. This figure represents, for example, goods traded between a cultivator and a medical cannabis dispensary, or herb house, 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.