Ganja block

MPs say banks frowning on cannabis stakeholders

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, November 09, 2017



MEMBERS of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) of Parliament have called on the Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA) to move quickly to forge a relationship with banks to assist stakeholders in the industry who are now having difficulty conducting transactions with these institutions.

The issue was raised by Trelawny Southern MP Marissa Dalrymple-Philibert at yesterday's meeting with officials of the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries at Gordon House.

“This is not an area that is just grey. It's very dark. It's unfair to tell people to go ahead... that's an area that needs absolute clarity,” Dalrymple-Philibert cautioned.

It was argued that the CLA should not sell cultivators and other interests in the ganja and hemp industry “false hope” when they could face serious challenges trying to move funds in the course of their operations, as banks are still afraid of the stigma attached to marijuana and the perceived risks.

“Be frank and candid…don't make the people believe it's happening when it's not; people are purchasing land, they have formed their companies and they want to move forward. Are they wasting time? …People need proper documentation and they need to be able to deal with banks, and attorneys need to be able to deal with the funds with comfort and ease,” she argued.

Dalrymple-Philibert questioned whether the CLA can successfully establish a ganja industry when farmers and other stakeholders are already facing this roadblock. “How can you with absolute sincerity [encourage] them to apply for a licence when you're “working' with the banks? The reality is that people in various areas who are doing it have a roadblock because they are going into their local banks and there is a handicap — [they] are not sure whether they should accept the money. If there is not a clear partnership, it is unfair to people to say go ahead,” she reasoned.

Weighing in, Committee Chairman Dr Wykeham McNeill also stressed that it was impractical to issue licences with those constraints.

“If your ministry and the licensing authority do not want to take the lead in dealing with this issue, we could have all regulations until the cows come home, nothing is going to happen because you won't be able to move any money through the banks if it is not cleared up with these companies,” he said.

Legal officer at the CLA Hilary Taylor explained, however, that the authority has been seeking to create a relationship with the banks. “What we have to bear in mind is that our mandate speaks to our ability to regulate the industry and ensuring that our stakeholders operate within the framework of our regulations. Even though we have been establishing relationships with various stakeholders, we do not have the potential to influence the policies and decisions of the banks.”

However, she said the CLA has been engaging the institutions which have been raising concerns about correspondent banking relationships, and have assured the institutions that the agency has measures in place to guard against certain risks. Correspondent banking facilitates, among other things, wire transfers and business transactions.

Stanberry noted the tentativeness of the banks to enter into these arrangements and transactions, especially money transfers. He agreed, however, that the Government has a duty to be honest with stakeholders on the matter so that expectations can be “adjusted accordingly”.

Meanwhile, the CLA said regulations to govern export will be ready for Parliament by the start of the next financial year.

The authority was set up two years ago to establish and regulate Jamaica's ganja and hemp industry as a requirement of amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act. The agency has so far received 315 applications for licences, issued three, and granted another eight which have not yet been handed over.

Lawyer says CLA seeking to create a relationship with banks

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