Ganja pilot project for Accompong

South/Central Bureau

Sunday, December 02, 2018

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BLACK RIVER, St Elizabeth — A pilot project is to be developed in the remote Maroon community of Accompong in northern St Elizabeth for the farming of ganja to provide raw material for processors, says Government Minister JC Hutchinson.

“St Elizabeth has plenty firsts. The first pilot project for the growing of Cannabis (ganja) is going to be in Accompong in this parish,” Hutchinson, who is minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, told his audience at the 'St Bess Homecoming AgriFest' at Independence Park, Black River recently.

“As we speak, the farmers up there are clearing ten acres of land so they can go into ganja cultivation. What will happen is that the person who is going to do the processing is one who is going to provide all the inputs. That is, he (processor) is going to provide the seeds, fence the place with hog wire, provide part of the security, and at the end of it he will purchase the ganja from the farmers,” Hutchinson said.

“And we are also looking to say to them that when you make the oil from the ganja, the farmers who have given you the product must also get a percentage of the profit that you make out of the oil. So it is not where you just give it to them and they run with the profit. They must also give back the farmer part of that profit that they make, because they making whole heap of money,” he added.

The minister said the Accompong pilot project formed part of Government's efforts to ensure that small farmers, and not just big money investors, benefit from decriminalisation and formal commercialisation of Jamaican ganja.

“We are arranging that any big man that is coming in to invest in this country has to get small farmers involved in ganja production. The small farmers must not be left out; they are the ones that are the bastion of ganja production in this country,” Hutchinson said.

Though widely used and culturally accepted by a large section of the Jamaican population, ganja use in small quantities (two ounces) was only decriminalised in Jamaica in 2015. Possession of ganja in quantities above two ounces, unlicensed cultivation in large quantities, and trafficking of the herb remain criminal offences.

The 2015 amended law allows Rastafarians to smoke ganja as a sacrament in their places of worship.

The law also facilitates a licensing regime for a regulated ganja industry focusing on medical, therapeutic, and scientific purposes.

There have been repeated complaints about the slow progress of the newly formalised industry with only a few licences approved so far by the Cannabis Licensing Authority.

Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries Audley Shaw has repeatedly said he is moving to ensure that Jamaica is not left behind in the fast-growing global medical cannabis industry.

He has pointed out that while Jamaica has only decriminalised the use of up to two ounces of marijuana and issued a few licences for production and processing, the product is now legal in Canada and Uruguay.

Also, many states in the United States have legalised the product for medicinal and recreational purposes.

However, the Federal Government in Washington, DC remains firmly opposed to the freeing up of ganja. That, many observers say, is the real reason the Jamaican authorities have been slow to push towards legalisation of the weed and full liberalisation of the industry.

Also, despite long-standing, widespread smoking of ganja there remains considerable push back at the local level against calls for its legalisation.

Currently, Jamaica is signatory to the 1961 United Nations (UN) Single Convention on Narcotic Drug, as well as the related 1972 Protocol Amending the Single Convention; the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances; and the 1988 UN Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.

The Single Convention limits the production, manufacture, export, import, distribution, trade in, and use and possession of drugs, except for medical and scientific purposes.

The prohibited products include cannabis (ganja), cannabis resin, and extracts and tinctures of cannabis.

Opposition parliamentarian Mark Golding — who as justice minister in the People's National Party Government at the time led the way in crafting the 2015 ganja law — said recently that for Jamaica to legalise ganja, the country would first need to withdraw from the 1961 UN Single Convention.

Accompong, close to the border between northern St Elizabeth and southern Trelawny in the Cockpit Country, is the main Maroon community in western Jamaica. Maroons are often described as the descendants of African slaves left behind by Spanish colonisers who fled Jamaica following the capture of the island by the British in 1655. Maroon numbers were significantly boosted by slaves who escaped to the mountains from sugar plantations run by British colonisers.

For several decades in the late 17th century and early 18th century, the Maroons fought guerilla-style against the British from hard-to-reach enclaves in the Blue Mountains and the Cockpit Country.

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