The tragedy of the ganja policy


Saturday, August 08, 2015

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THE passing of the amendment of the Dangerous Drugs Act 2015 in February has laid the foundation for the development of the policy framework governing a ganja industry in Jamaica.

The baton has now been passed to the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce (MIIC); Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy, and Mining (MSTEM); and the ministry of Health. This leg of the relay requires these key Ministries to develop policies that will enable maximum economic benefit to the nation. This has led to a foray of discussions among many Jamaicans, especially those posturing to benefit from the "green gold rush", on how best to ensure that the prospective policies result in the traditional ganja growers and the common citizens gaining a share of the "ganja pie". It is therefore advisable that those specialists and consultants charged with the task of crafting these policies be mindful of the cultural and social importance of ganja to certain demographics, and come to the policy table divorced from all personal dogmas.

The policy problem

This leads us to consider the problems that must be tackled by each ministry, as it relates to the use of what most Jamaicans consider a very common and traditional product, "ganja". The central problem now being faced by these ministries is how to navigate the attitude and thinking of the common Jamaican from ganja being totally tabooed, to a product that is decriminalised, but acceptable under certain conditions, even within an highly regulated framework. However, it is important to note that even with the previous criminal sanctions that were associated with the possession and use of ganja, it was widely used for folk medicine, in edibles, and for recreational purposes. Thereby, placing ganja in the category of a common good. The delineation of ganja as a common good will require a rational approach to the policy development by the technocrats so tasked.

In arguments put forward in support of a rational approach to public policy in the common, theorists such as Elinor Ostrom, makes the point that the "tragedy of the commons" occurs when resource is available to be used by all, with the possibility for abuse and a reduction in resource's benefit if its use is allowed to go unregulated. Here in lies the "tragedy of the ganja policy" in Jamaica. The passage of the Dangerous Drug Amendment Act 2015 is viewed by many as opening the way for the natural plant, ganja (cannabis), to be grown and used in such a way as to be beneficial to all especially the traditional ganja growers. This therefore requires rational, non-dogmatic thinking and a multi-government strategy to ganja policy.

The ministries approach

It is important that the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce recognise that the traditional ganja industry players (both small and large) have the potential to contribute to "facilitating enterprise for employment and growth" as stated by the ministry's website. The contribution of ganja farmers to facilitating growth in Jamaica must be done in a structured and efficient manner. The MIIC, through its agency JAMPRO, should create a framework for adding value to Jamaica's brand of ganja, especially when there is already an informal recognition of such "brands" from Orange Hill, Westmoreland, and Bannister, St Catherine, in addition to some notable others across the island. However, even before arriving at the point of branding Jamaica's ganja, there needs to be an overall amendment to the policy of the Registrar of Companies to allow for the use of the words, "ganja and cannabis" in the names of businesses. It has been the experience of ganja growers that even with the amendment to allow for medical ganja businesses there is still great difficulties to register organisations with the words "ganja" because the plant is still deemed illegal. It is important that this policy framework be treated with, as it also has implications for intellectual property (IP) in the ganja industry. This is just one of the main policy area that MIIC needs to address the "tragedy of ganja policy" in Jamaica.

Alternatively, on the side of the science and technology, the "tragedy of ganja policy" is that the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining (MSTEM) needs to ensure that adequate policy is in place to facilitate the necessary research to be done not only on tetrahyrocannabinol (THC) rich ganja, but also on the cannabidiol (CBD) rich hemp. Whereas research has been done on the economic benefits of hemp to larger countries such as the USA, there still remains significant study to be done on its impact on small island developing states such as those in the Caribbean. This research is necessary as "industrial hemp" is being heralded one of the panaceas for the country's economic woes, just as "king sugar" was in the early 1900s. However, we should ensure that the potential to participate in the industrial hemp sector does not damage our chances to reap full benefits from the other strains of ganja which would be more suited for medical and therapeutic sectors and one that the country as over the years developed an expertise in producing (even while it being illegal). There is also the potential for biofuel from "industrial hemp" and that can be an additional source of energy to the country, but again we need to ensure that the relevant policy is in place to capitalise on this, if it is to be considered in the context of Jamaica's traditional ganja growing as there are varied opinions amongst traditional growers on cultivating industrial hemp.

Another important player in treating with the "tragedy of ganja policy" in Jamaica is the Ministry of Health (MoH). It can't go unnoticed that the MoH, through its agency the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA) has ramped up its campaign against ganja usage in Jamaica. While we can appreciate the policy of the NCDA to prevent the abuse of substances by citizens, and more so our adolescents, I strongly believe that the MoH need to change their discourse on ganja to one that is more positive by highlighting the great potential benefits of a medical and therapeutic ganja industry. There are many known diseases such as asthma and chronic pain that ganja (cannabis) has been used to treat over the years, and this is the use of ganja that should be more effectively highlighted through the MoH. Additionally, the MoH also need to establish a policy to register and track traditional naturopathic practitioners (bush doctors) who may now find themselves prescribing various levels of ganja to treat persons (patients) that visit their establishment. This policy would ensure that we alleviate the "tragedy of ganja" being prescribed by anyone outside of a formal registered framework, while seeking to develop a more established traditional naturopathic sector as an option for the Jamaican entrepreneur.

In keeping with the Government of Jamaica's joined-up governance approach, the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education should develop a more innovative strategy to change the thinking of many Jamaican youth who may fall prey to the "tragedy of ganja" being viewed as "free" for smoking anytime and anywhere. Instead, policies should be outline for young people to consider embarking on positive careers in the emerging ganja industry given the amendment of the Dangerous Drug Act. The scope for young people to be engaged in careers such as Budtenders and Geneticists is very wide ranging, and examples of this can be seen in the cases of Colorado and Washington states where there are constant advertisement of jobs in the cannabis industry within those states. These careers can also help Jamaica to improve the various strains that maybe utilised for medical or industrial purposes.

Beyond the tragedy

However, if we are truly serious about a ganja industry as part of Jamaica's development we would pass a Ganja Industry Act that would fully legalise ganja and establish a Ganja Industry Board to oversee all related policy. This would build the foundation for managing the challenges of the "tragedy of the ganja policy" and improve good governance in the industry. Additionally, it would considerably improve the opportunity of Jamaica to achieving its Vision 2030 to make "Jamaica, the place of choice to live, work, raise families, and do business" not just for some persons but also for the those citizens involved in the business of ganja. But again that is just me getting ahead of our very conservative society.

Vicki Hanson is a PhD candidate in public policy and ganja reform lobbyist. Send comments to the Observer or

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