Ganja: Discovering the future

Ganja: Discovering the future

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

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Despite cannabis being an integral part of the Jamaican identity, just five years ago local laws did not reflect the realities of its use in the country. However, this changed after the decriminalisation of cannabis in 2015 which was initiated by then Member of Parliament Raymond Pryce.

In 2013, Pryce drafted and tabled the motion calling for the decriminalisation of the possession of small quantities of cannabis for personal, religious and recreational use as well as for the purposes of medicinal and academic research. Now, what are Pryce's present thoughts looking back to 2013?

Pryce's personal relationship with cannabis began in his grandmother's medicinal remedies.

“There was an elixir made from, among other things, the oil extracted from ganja which was used as an effective decongestant, as well as ganja tea (served either hot or cold) which would have been given depending on specific ailment(s). I also recall the plant being macerated and applied as a poultice to treat joint pains and swellings,” he said.

As a student in the Faculty of Pure and Applied Sciences at The University of the West Indies, Pryce explored botany and took a keen interest in attaining knowledge on the medicinal, economic and scientific benefits of various plant species, including cannabis.

However, during his tenure in Parliament, Pryce's primary concern surrounding decriminalisation was from of a human rights standpoint because he had observed people being persistently prosecuted for contact with and use of cannabis and its derivatives, whether for therapeutic or religious purposes.

He notes one case in particular. “A mother came to my constituency office asking me to help her son achieve his dream of becoming a security guard,” he said. “But due to a 'ganja charge' on his police record he could not become a security guard and had become depressed.”

Currently, people in possession of two ounces or less can no longer be arrested, charged and tried in court. But with talks of establishing a local cannabis industry, the public's perception remains split with some citizens calling for looser regulations and others concerned about the public's welfare.

Nevertheless, with more information available than ever before, as well as Jamaica's history and relationship with cannabis, there has definitely been a change in perception, or at least a recent “openness” to cannabis.

“While many Jamaicans are also aware of positive uses handed down through generations within family kitchens and mixes, since the decriminalisation there have been greater levels of public discussions about both the harmful and beneficial characteristics of cannabis,” said Pryce. “So the approach to cannabis has been evolving at a greater rate than at any other time in our history.”

With cannabis experiencing tremendous growth in overseas markets, the same cannot be said for Jamaica, which is significantly behind market leaders such as Israel, Uruguay, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America.

Pryce said Jamaica fails in this aspect due to “the absence of the enabling environment for the establishment of a profitable, legitimate cannabis-based industry, as well as the absence of a clear leader at the policy level who will take on the responsibility to detail the pathway and set objectives and measurable targets for the establishment of the enabling environment”.

In addition, people are adamant that Jamaicans should remain at the centre of the local cannabis industry. This is especially important for local business owners who face the threat of foreign investment and companies that seek to capitalise on the Jamaican brand.

But what can be done to protect local business owners?

Pryce points to Jamaica's pioneers in cannabis research, such as Drs Lockhart, Lowe, Morris, West and others who have achieved phenomenal scientific success in spite of prohibition and the risk of criminalisation and prosecution.

“Now that the opportunity exists for those barriers to innovation and scientific research and development to be lifted, an appropriate environment (or cannabis industry ecosystem) must quickly be determined to allow our scientists and entrepreneurs to do what they do best: ideate, innovate and lead the important developments within the sector,” said Pryce.

While Jamaica is experiencing a few drawbacks to establishing a booming cannabis industry, the country has come a far way. There is still further to go. What will the next five years look like for the local cannabis industry?

Cannabis was adopted for religious use in the 1930s by Leonard P Howell and other elders in the Rastafarian faith who were of the belief that this sacrament had strong Hebrew origins, and actually left the Middle East with the movement of the Dravidians into Asia.

Cannabis is often brewed into a tea and used as a tonic to treat aches and asthma. One common practice in the Jamaican household is to soak cannabis leaves or buds in white rum for use as a pain reliever, either topically or orally.

— Precianne Miller is marketing officer at Medicanja Limited.

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