Jamaica has missed the ganja boat — Paul Burke

Business reporter

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

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When it comes to the evolving local and global marijuana industry, “Jamaica has missed the boat,” according to Paul Burke, former general secretary of the People's National Party.

“Don't let anyone fool us on this,” he said.

Burke was delivering a presentation on “The Business of Medical Marijuana: Profit or loss?” at a public forum held at the Mona School of Business & Management at the University of the West Indies, Mona last Wednesday.

“Yes, we have missed the larger boat, but there are still some small canoes (opportunities). We must jump into these canoes and paddle as fast and as far as we can, in the hope of catching the boat,” Burke said.

In his view, ganja presents a great market opportunity for the nation and its people if they act now, but the country has been lax in grasping the opportunity, and now it is quickly slipping out of reach. The situation is largely a result of the level of bureaucratic red tape, difficulty in receiving licences, and the slow pace of both the past and current administrations.

Burke noted that three years ago, the National Alliance on the Legalisation of Ganja, in association with the newly formed Ganja Growers and Producers Association, held Jamaica's first two-day cannabis conference and symposium at the Norman Manley Law School. There they discussed the potential of cannabis, the research available, and the steps needed to see ganja develop as a profitable product locally.

At the conference's closing, they “declared that there is no plausible reason why a ministry paper establishing regulations for this industry cannot be in place by the 30th of September 2014, to be renewed annually, towards legislation being passed in two or three years. The time to act is now, the tremendous health and wealth potential for the Jamaican people is boundless. Wake up, Jamaica, our opportunities are slipping away.”

In the year and a half since regulations were approved, a total of two licences have been granted.

“Surely something must be fundamentally wrong with the process,” Burke stated.

He gave an example of a farmer who, after waiting for two years to get his licence in Jamaica, went to Puerto Rico, and in five days got a licence to cultivate, research and process marijuana, along with a 90 per cent tax credit.

The current process is too long and is restricting potential investors. “In 2014-2016, we literally turned away so many good potential investors, many willing to go into win-win partnerships with our small and traditional growers,” said Burke.

And as Jamaica waits and hesitates, the industry and potential growth suffers.

“Our farmers are far behind in terms of methodology and technology, because they have to use hide-and-seek methods of cultivation. We are way behind…”

Burke believes that they have missed out by not being able to benefit from the kind of research in cultivating methods, and opportunities available from those who have sought to pave a way in the research and export of medical ganja.

“The Jamaica Medicinal Cannabis industry needs a Cannabis Industry Advisory Board, comprising all major stakeholders who will understand their role and have a greater sense of urgency and implementation”, Burke said.

He also argued that the role of a regulator is very different from that of a policy maker and should be kept as such.

“Regulators ought not to be policy makers. Certainly they should have an input into policy, but should not be the driving force of policy formulation…Jamaica has some good people in the wrong positions… inept at where they are placed, and not understanding the magnitude of the potential, the urgency to proceed, or the benefit of the industry they are being tasked to oversee and regulate,” he said.

Burke warns: “The illusion that there is something special about Jamaican ganja is fast diminishing. One company in Israel is set to export 175,000 pounds of ganja from 23 acres this year.”

Moving forward, he recommends getting ganja growing, as there can be no industry without the product.

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