Marigold looks to export ganja to Caribbean

Marigold looks to export ganja to Caribbean

Business editor

Friday, March 01, 2019

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As the nascent legal ganja industry continues to develop locally, cannabis company Marigold Projects Jamaica is already looking towards exporting medical and recreational marijuana to the Caribbean.

Both Marigold and its Canadian business partner Aphria are positive about the future of the company, having just had what Aphria President Jakob Ripshtein called a very successful meeting with Minister of Industry Audley Shaw on Monday.

Cannabis company Aphria is currently doing business in its home market, Colombia, Argentina, and some European countries, and reports that it is in more than 10 countries with a presence on five continents. Jamaica is an important market for the company, however, both for production and sales.

“We believe Jamaica can be the hub for us in the region,” Ripshtein said in an interview with the Jamaica Observer. “From here we are going to grow and export. We see the Caribbean market as our first export market.”

No particular country has yet been targeted, but the company would look at all islands for their market potential, including Caricom member states and others such as the Dominican Republic.

Not only does the company plan to export to the Caribbean, but in the medium term it is looking even further afield to the vast European market, Marigold Managing Director Lloyd Tomlinson told Caribbean Business Report.

“We would have a Jamaican brand that we can take around the world,” Ripshtein said.

The exporting process is not a simple one, however, as, apart from needing export permission, the way also needs to be cleared on the importing side.

Nevertheless, the Government and Shaw himself have got high marks from Ripshtein, who said “Government thas been more than collaborative”.

Ripshtein made the point again later in the conversation, saying, “The Government has been exceptional.”

But while the company is setting its sights on exporting, it has no intention of importing the product, as the plan is for all Jamaican products to be produced from locally sourced ganja.

To date, the company — which is listed on both the Toronto and New York stock exchanges — has invested “tens of millions of US dollars” in its Jamaican operations, Ripshtein said, adding that there is more to come.

“We are investing long term,” he emphasised. “We're going to continue to believe in Jamaica.”

Much of that investment is going into the creation of a wide network of retail outlets under the brand Sensi Medical Cannabis House. Marigold Jamaica is currently setting up two herb houses, and five more should be open by June, with a further five to be opened within a year.

The first Sensi Medical Cannabis House is set to be at the Peter Tosh Museum at Pulse Centre in New Kingston, a location considered to be prime by the Marigold managing director.

Others are planned for Portmore, Ocho Rios, and at least two seafront locations, one at what is currently the Drunken Squid restaurant in Montego Bay, and an equally desirable location at Chances on Negril's seven-mile white sand beach. Tomlinson believes that these two locations should prove very popular for the tourism market.

Meanwhile, Tomlinson is not worried about existing or upcoming competition from other herb houses. Referring to Epican — Kingston's first herb house launched last July — Tomlinson said, “Epican has had a head start, but Kingston is a big place. We think our activities are the best you can have.”

Like Epican, a doctor will be onsite to write prescriptions at the herb houses, but consumers can also self-medicate, and are able to choose between strains that offer different qualities. One strain may be deemed better for pain relief, for example, while another may have other desirable qualities.

While ganja cultivation has flourished in Canada, especially indoors, Jamaica's ganja industry remains extremely relevant, due to both its climate and brand. Ganja can be produced at a faster rate in Jamaica than in Canadian greenhouses, and the company can charge a premium for the Jamaian brand.

“There are 509 steps from seed to sale,” Tomlinson said. And each one of those steps is carefully tracked by the company. “We can track every plant and every part of the production.”

The company also has a 25-acre farm in St Catherine. It currently employs about 30 people, but by the end of the year, with the development of the herb houses, that is likely to increase to 60 or 70 people, including security staff.

As the company grows and needs more ganja than it can produce on its land, the company will be buying the product from small farmers — supplying them with the required strains. “We would buy back from them at the best prices,” Tomlinson said.

A research and development facility is also in the works. Marigold started in 2015, primarily in research, and applied last year for seven of the eight licences available from the Cannabis Licensing Authority.

Tomlinson defines himself as “a Blue Mountain Coffee man”, and so knows a thing or two about farming in Jamaica, albeit a different crop. His son has now taken over the management of his coffee farm, while Tomlinson concentrates on the ganja industry.

Ripshtein has more of a corporate background. Joining Aphria as chief commercial officer in May 2018, he became president in November. Prior to that he worked at Diageo for 10 years, leaving as chief financial officer of Diageo North America, having also worked as president of Diageo Canada.

Aphria, which is based in Leamington, Ontario, “the green house capital of Canada”, says that it has been setting the standard for the low-cost production of safe, clean and pure pharmaceutical-grade cannabis at scale, grown in the most natural conditions possible. It states that it is focused on untapped opportunities, and backed by the latest technologies. It is committed to bringing breakthrough innovation to the global cannabis market.

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