Itopia opens as Kingston's second ganja dispensary

Observer writer

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

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Itopia Life Herb House, a new medical ganja dispensary, opens today in Kingston at 10A West Kings House Rd, opposite the Canadian High Commission.

The dispensary is the fourth of its kind to open in Jamaica and the second to open in the capital city of Kingston, after Epican at the Market Place on Constant Spring Road.

The company is a fully integrated seed-to-sale operation which includes cultivation, processing, research & development, as well as retail.

“Today, we are very proud to share with the public Itopia's representation of the Jamaican ganja culture,” said Joan 'Nanook' Webley, the company's president. “Jamaica possesses something special in the global cannabis community and our aim is to represent that as authentically as we can.”

This authentic representation of Jamaican ganja culture is embodied in Itopia Life's brand identity which is rooted in African ancestry, Jamaican indigenous cultures and the vibrancy of the modern ganja consumer.

The location of the dispensary at 10A West Kings House Rd has long been a creative hub for musicians, filmmakers and artists. Webley added that some of these creatives, who have helped keep Jamaican culture alive, are partners with Itopia Life.

The property at West Kings House Road has been leased from the Henzell family, and it was the family home of Perry Henzell, the director of the acclaimed Jamaican movie T he Harder they Come.

The long term plan is for the Henzells to develop new business ventures at the same location that complement the herb house. These plans may include a film gallery and an Airbnb.

Itopia Life's CEO is Canadian Blaine Dowdle, who has been involved in the cannabis industry since 2003. Other principals include Andrew Moody-Stuart, COO; past chairman Peter McConnel; professor Wayne McLaughlin, chairman; Joan Webley, president; Josiah Halley, who is from St Maarten; and Jori Landman from Holland.

LeVaughn Flynn, vice-president, marketing and communications, revealed that the medical ganja that will be sold at the dispensary is grown under the strict conditions and requirements of the Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA).

“The conditions under which the medical ganja is grown allows for a cleaner and safer product,” the vice- president explained. “Growing the ganja in a greenhouse with a specially controlled environment means we are able to preserve the plant's trichomes which are essentially molecular glands that preserve the most important elements of the plant and ensure a higher quality product.”

Greenhouse production also reduces the possibility of mould.

Flynn revealed that customers at the dispensary will always have access to a doctor who can be consulted for advice. New customers will be interviewed by a client service officer with the purpose of understanding the client's needs and advising them on the potential effects, flavour and aroma of each strain of ganja.

After purchasing their medical ganja, customers will have access to two consumption rooms designed with a homely feel representative of a Jamaican ambiance.

“Ongoing communication with our customers is very important to us,” Flynn said. “For example, after persons have used our ganja we want to better understand the effect it had on them and how it made them feel. This is important in better understanding both our plants and the customer.”

Webley emphasised, however, that the company's mission encompasses a lot more than providing access to premium medical ganja.

“We are curators of culturally rich experiences, we are advocates for normalising the plant, we are a medium for self-empowerment through education,” stated Webley. “Everything we do revolves around how this amazing plant can make for a better quality of life in every way.”

She said the company's business philosophy is also reflected in its choice of partners which include local artisans, the Rastafari Indigenous Village and the UWI.

Simultaneously, the company is positioning itself for international growth as it has a licensing deal with Viola, a US-based medical cannabis company run by former NBA player Al Harrington.

Itopia Life is also developing a tourism product that will include excursions to its picturesque 80-acre farm in Bonham, St Ann, home to the popular Irie River attraction.

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