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Why is Raymond Pryce so high on ganja?

MP wants end to 'slash and burn' practice by cops

BY DESMOND ALLEN Executive Editor - Special Assignment allend@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, January 28, 2014    

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A little known fact about Raymond Pryce, the North East St Elizabeth member of parliament, is that he is the grandnephew of Jamaica's first native commissioner of police and former custos of St Catherine, Basil Robinson.

More known to the people of Mile Gully, St Ann, is that Pryce is the grandson of a woman, Mary Pryce, who developed home remedies from ganja and whose family has retained several of her remedy formulas, including ganja, to this day.

That partially explains why Pryce has been at the forefront of activities by a rapidly growing local and international lobby for legalisation of ganja, with the bigger vision being a thriving ganja industry in Jamaica, built on the weed's long history that advocates like the MP say has put the island way ahead of countries now salivating about the economic prospects.

Pryce is not only a lobbyist for decriminalisation/legalisation of ganja. He plans to optimise on his grandmother's remedies, once the Jamaican Government removes the legal impediment, which now seems to be a foregone conclusion, because the two major political parties appear at one on the issue.

If Pryce is going after something, it's a safe bet he'll get it. After a stint as the articulate spokesman for the Consumer Affairs Commission, he suddenly emerged as the People's National Party (PNP) candidate for North East St Elizabeth in the 2011 general elections. He had a mere one month to win the seat!

And Pryce's current high on ganja includes prospects for economic projects in the constituency.

Mary Pryce died six years ago not knowing that ganja would soon be hailed as a new economic saviour of Jamaica. But her grandson is determined to make something of her work back in the day in the rustic garden parish where it's an open secret that ganja is widely grown. Ganja's impact on Pryce's family is mixed.

"On one hand, Commissioner Robinson would have instilled in us a strong respect for law and order which, in truth, we have. As commissioner as well, he headed the Jamaica Constabulary Force, which has always maintained a strong prohibition regime against ganja as per the relevant laws -- especially the Dangerous Drugs Act.

"At the same time, I had another grand uncle (also now deceased) who abused ganja and was, while not officially diagnosed, an alcoholic. He once said the reason he drank so much rum was because he couldn't figure out how to eat it instead of drinking it. I also have relatives who are Rastafarians and others who are medical and legal professionals.

"Therefore I am patently aware of the pros and cons for the use and/or abuse of ganja, its therapeutic benefits, medicinal benefits and social and religious benefits, as well as the hazards associated with its abuse, especially when combined with alcohol abuse," Pryce said in an interview with the Jamaica Observer as he was leaving the historic first ganja forum that launched the Future Ganja Growers and Producers Association recently.

Signalling his full support for a ganja economy in a future Jamaica, Pryce spent the entire day at the forum organised jointly by the Cannabis Commercial and Medicinal Task Force; the Ganja Law Reform Coalition and the National Alliance for the Legalisation of Ganja, at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona Campus. UWI Principal Archibald McDonad chaired the forum.

UN meeting to review ganja's status

Pryce is now preparing for another major step, participation in the Vienna, Austria working group meeting this March to prepare for the United Nations General Assembly's Special Session on Narcotics in 2016 at the UN Headquarters in New York. That meeting will largely determine ganja's future in the immediate and long terms, as it will decide whether the weed continues to be prohibited under the UN Conventions on Narcotic Drugs to which Jamaica is a signatory.

Pryce does not intend to just warm a bench at the Vienna meeting.

"Canada, the United States, Uruguay and other countries including Israel (all signatories) have different domestic regimes with respect to ganja, based on positions taken in their local jurisdiction, without any deleterious impact on their status and stature within the global community," he said. "This meeting provides Jamaica an opportunity to recover its leadership on the issues and participate fulsomely in these meetings with a view to influence the new Regime circa 2016 with respect to ganja."

He noted that Jamaica was a leader in the anti-apartheid struggle under Norman Manley, while still a colony of Britain; in the non-aligned movement and the new world economic order in the 1970s under Michael Manley and the establishment of the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) in the 1980s under Edward Seaga.

"My belief is that we must change the 'fear'-led prohibition regime to a 'fair' and intelligent approach to ganja, and Jamaica must take back its lead role internationally," said Pryce.

Outlining his outlook for a ganja industry in Jamaica, Pryce said that whether for medicinal, religious, social or personal use, a legitimate system had to be developed "that maps out supply (farming, strains, subspecies, genetic material), harvesting (post-harvesting storage, phyto-sanitary specifications), distribution (local and export), licensing, taxation, marketing, promotion and all related elements of a formal industry".

He said that those processes had already begun on differing levels, not least of which was the Government's decision to trademark Jamaican ganja in Europe recently.

"Some of the stakeholders at the ganja forum (January 18, 2014) are also involved in leading the developments of various models for consideration. All such activities must be formalised with dispatch, even as the policy position at the Cabinet level is settled and in addition to the development in the local Parliament which resulted from the Private Member's Motion I tabled one year ago. In the debate on the motion I raised and detailed the way forward on a number of these parameters," he said.

"I was careful to locate the discussion in what was happening in the region, this hemisphere and globally. With events such as the ganja forum, more information is being exchanged by additional sources, which is helping people to better understand the situation and why decriminalisation or otherwise legitimisation of the ganja sector is crucial to social, economic and therefore national development," Pryce added.

Cops must end 'slash and burn' policy in ganja fields

Pryce acknowledged that the Jamaican Parliament still had more work to do and he pledged that for his part, he had two additional related Private Member's Motions to bring to the House.

"One includes the request for the establishment of a Government department which would provide a central co-ordinating mechanism that outlines the facets and relationships across sectors that will see Jamaica achieving a legitimate ganja sector in the shortest possible time. The second will call for a cease and desist from the 'slash and burn' approach by the security forces so that we stop destroying the genetic material as well as the soil profile when ganja farms are located," he said.

The MP also disclosed that he had also identified legal support to help him draft a model Bill that would set out the new legal framework to support a comprehensive and profitable ganja sector.

Pryce believes that the time has come for a new approach to business and economic development in Jamaica, arguing that since the Europeans arrived, Jamaica had pursued economic development through extractive industries where raw materials and primary products were mined or harvested and taken to Europe (mostly England).

Finished goods and services were then imported to Jamaica from developed countries at great cost to domestic consumers, bauxite being a classic example.

"We export raw ore or alumina and import from aluminium foil to motor cars. Continued dependence on this model will never achieve the quantum leap we need to secure our sustainable development," he said. "It makes us more vulnerable, more poor and susceptible to environmental degradation which, with climate change, will certify our underdevelopment.

"We must now replace that approach. The creative industries are less costly to develop, provide more people participation and ownership. Returns are more widely dispersed and distributed. The environmental footprints are smaller. Vulnerabilities to climate change are reduced and the middle-class more likely to expand. Local high value goods and services (commodities) are developed, which enhance export-led trade, grow the economy, reduce unemployment, increase entrepreneurship and innovation and increase wealth, which is retained in the local economy.

"Ganja won't achieve all of this. Ganja, however, is a keystone sector in the way forward with more potential than people initially thought possible," Pryce suggested. "I am adamant that a change in our approach to ganja will, in time, redound to the economic and social benefit of this country."

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