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Gov't promises to review cannabis licensing process

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, May 25, 2019

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THE cries of stakeholders in the legal cannabis industry are now receiving some attention from the Government, among them the complaints about the onerous application process which presents a significant obstacle for small growers and producers.

State minister for industry, agriculture and fisheries, Floyd Green announced yesterday that the Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA) is to review the stringent application process, as it now recognises that it is too excessive.

“I've heard a number of people speak to the tremendous difficulty and the length of time that it takes to have the applications processed. I've tasked the executive director to do a full review to see where we can eliminate bureaucracy while still ensuring that we have the safeguards,” Green told stakeholders yesterday at the second Jamaica cannabis conference, hosted by the Ganja Growers and Producers Association of Jamaica (GGPAJ) at The University of the West Indies in Mona, St Andrew.

The regulations, which are still in an interim status, are also to be overhauled over the next three months, said Green. He noted that the regulations were established in accordance with international guidelines, but now that they are in force the authorities recognise the need for tweaking.

“In developing the industry we really wanted to send a very clear sign, through our regulations, that we were having a full, strong, legal industry, and as such our regulations are very stringent. Well two years in, we have seen where some of them may not be practical for the development of our industry. Now we have seen it clearly in operation and we have seen where it provides tremendous barriers in some instances for legitimate entry into the industry,” Green said, noting that the CLA has been mandated to undertake the review in consultation with the stakeholders.

Also, the CLA is upgrading its software system as some of the upfront requirements for entry into the industry can be minimised with the establishment of a strong tracking system, Green said.

Additionally, he said that by the end of this year the regulations for the expungement of criminal records for specified ganja-related offences should be ready.

He also disclosed that over the next six weeks, the CLA is to receive an additional eight new employees to beef up its manpower. They include agricultural specialists with expertise in monitoring and organisational structure.

Cannabis growers and producers had raised a number of concerns, such as the hours of service provided by the CLA, pointing out, for example, that the cultivation of marijuana is a 24-hour business, and as such the CLA needs to be more flexible in its business hours.

Vice-president of the GGPAJ, Maurice Ellis again reiterated that the Dangerous Drugs (amendment) Act of 2015 needs to be further amended, pointing out the obstacles faced by foundation cannabis farmers who, as part of the application process, are asked to produce police records. Ellis stressed that in addition to reviewing the onerous fees of up to US$10,000 for a licence, the CLA should look to abolish the police record requirement, as many such farmers would in fact have ganja-related offences on their records connected to the illegal trade of the weed.

Green gave an undertaking that the Government would also be taking another look at fees, land ownership, and the police record issue. “I've heard that cry…I think most people appreciate why it was a part of the regulations. But I understand the underlying challenge that it presented and we have to look at it, especially if the only blemish on record is related to ganja; it can't be that because you were in the illicit trade and that is on your record then you have to stay there,” he stated.

Stakeholders also said they were concerned that the licences issued so far are skewed towards corporate Jamaica and foreign investors.

Licensed processor Gregory Whorton stated that: “The CLA needs to adjust its attitudes in how it deals with the players as [we are being treated] like we are criminals. We have to comply with a lot of requirements. Plants don't know Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Sunday, so if we need to harvest on a Sunday or on a public holiday we [should not be] told that they (CLA) don't work on weekends, don't work on public holidays, and we start work a 9:00 o'clock. That's a major issue when it comes to harvesting.”

It is required that an officer from the CLA be present when harvesting is being done.

Meanwhile, Green assured that the conversation around banking services for cannabis – another major hindrance – is on in earnest through diplomatic channels. “We are moving in the right direction. Quite frankly, it's not an issue that we can fix by ourselves,” he remarked.

The state minister told the cannabis players that he would be paying special attention to the CLA in light of the plethora of issues

The CLA said it had, up to March 31, received 627 applications from more than 200 applicants and issued 33 licences. One hundred and seventy-eight applications were at the conditional approval stage, it said.


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