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Ganja industry could go up in smoke

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

We are acutely aware in this space that Jamaica's fledgling marijuana industry is overshadowed by much deference among a significant section of our population, who are still to be convinced that it is good for our country.

On the other hand, those who are already fully convinced consistently point to the benefits being accrued to several countries which are doing everything to get their share of an international cannabis industry estimated to grow in value to US$150 billion in the next seven years.

The growth of a local ganja industry, therefore, will be slow and possibly tortuous while we work through the historical biases, meander through the legislative minefields as well as the fears about the danger of embracing the drug, till we can see clearly that there is more good than harm in moving ahead.

The possession and smoking of specified quantities of ganja, and its use for medical, therapeutic and scientific purposes, were decriminalised through changes to the Dangerous Drugs Act in 2015.

This is a relatively short period of time in which to work out all the kinks involved in planting an industry, much less one that has not yet fully won over Jamaicans, including some in the Government who belong to the old anti-ganja school of thought.

Hence, we are not surprised by the lead story in yesterday's edition of the Jamaica Observer about the Ganja Growers and Producers Association Jamaica (GGPAJ) being opposed to the Government's apparent embrace of hemp cultivation here.

The GGPAJ believes that large-scale production of hemp in Jamaica could be detrimental to the local cannabis industry, and that it is to the benefit of “big corporate interests” versus the traditional ganja farmers.

The association has written to CEO Lincoln Allen, of the Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA), to express its concerns that the Government has been supporting the hemp lobby by providing State lands, among other things, presumably while not doing the same for its members.

The GGPAJ comprises home growers who are entitled to cultivate five plants for their own therapeutic purposes; unlicensed traditional farmers who are in the process of transitioning to the legal industry; Rastafarians who have rights to grow sacramental herbs; and licensed ganja cultivators, as well as all other applicants to the CLA.

“It is our understanding (rightly or wrongly), before any new crop is introduced, and certainly on a large-scale basis, as being contemplated, there should be an environmental impact assessment study.

“We would also wish to evaluate the study that would obviously have been carried out and evaluated by the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture, and Fisheries and, more likely, also by the Cannabis Licensing Authority,” the GGPAJ also said in its letter.

The association complained that it has not been included in any consultation on the matter of hemp cultivation in Jamaica.

We are unaware of the level or quality of consultation between the Government and the various stakeholders, but it is our view that in this formative period of the industry every effort must be made to listen to each other.

Anything else, and we risk being left behind as the local industry goes up in smoke.