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Gov't says no plan for industrial hemp industry

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, May 27, 2019

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THE Government has moved to relieve the anxiety gripping growers and producers in the country's burgeoning legal ganja industry regarding plans to open up the island to industrial hemp production, which many fear could obliterate cannabis.

State minister for agriculture, Floyd Green, said there is no intention at this time for the development of an industrial hemp industry.

Cannabis industry players had insisted that industrial hemp could threaten the survival of the island's various unique species of the cannabis genus.

Addressing last week's Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange, horticulturist and principal researcher of the Life Sciences Department at The University of the West Indies (UWI) Dr Machel Emanuel said being the only country internationally which has built a cannabis culture, Jamaica has a unique marketing position, and must protect its cannabis germplasm.

“Jamaica has developed unique characteristics based on cannabis strains of plants that have been here from indentured labourer time. Industrial hemp grown for industrial fibre is a temporary crop which has been grown in temperate regions for centuries, so trying to reinvent that wheel and bringing in these temperate varieties to Jamaica can pose serious challenges, decimating our germplasm that we have here. The threat is to the licensed producer; the persons who have their five legal plants; the sacramental grower; and the person who is converting from the alternative model to the legal framework,” he warned.

Dr Emanuel also pointed out that while Jamaica has a wealth of indigenous knowledge in the cultivation of cannabis, the country does not have the same level of expertise and human resource for hemp cultivation. “Growing the cannabis for high CDB doesn't necessarily pose a challenge to the existing medical cannabis sector, but more so industrial hemp. “Growing the plant for its fibre and seeds takes a very different protocol because Jamaica's human resource and level of competence is not necessarily within that field,” he said.

The public reassurance to those fears came at the second staging of the Jamaica Cannabiz Conference held at the UWI, Mona campus on Friday from state minister Green.

“We believe that our priority has to be to protect our ganja industry first and foremost. What is critical is that we have to move with speed to ensure that we get regulations in place for the hemp industry, we are at one giving the priority and primacy to our ganja industry. At this time we are definitely not looking into an industrial hemp industry,” he told the audience of growers, producers, and other industry players.

He noted that the Cannabis Licensing Authority is now reviewing the draft hemp policy, and has been instructed to accept participation from stakeholders.

“The policy is clearly important because it will give guidelines to put forward regulations for the industry,” Green said.

Also speaking on the issue at the Observer Monday Exchange a week ago, foundation cannabis advocate and entrepreneur with cannabis business interests in Jamaica and South Africa, Katie Lennon said in its contemplation of hemp production, Jamaica should learn lessons from the importation of the mongoose into Jamaica in the 1870s from India, to eliminate the white-bellied rat which plagued sugar plantations, and snakes. “We never even tested that the snakes are not dangerous. Now we have an infestation of mongoose and [indigenous] snakes are gone because of mongoose. Very few people who know a Jamaican yellow snake, [and] the mongoose has killed off all of the traditional turkey,” she argued.

Lennon asserted that industrial hemp would destroy cannabis cultivations, as there has not yet even been any proper research on growing hemp.

“The little research that is done in Jamaica is done by this brother here (Emanuel); everything else (research) went to America and Canada.

“... If five years from now we [give licences for the growing of] industrial hemp, what are these small [cannabis] farmers going to do? We are in danger,” she stated.

Vice-president of the Ganja Growers and Producers Association of Jamaica, Maurice Ellis pointed out that that there is far more monetary value in ganja per acre than hemp. He said that while cannabis production is not cheap, the capital and production costs for hemp is even more expensive, and that a local hemp industry could, down the road, be faced with the same obstacles as the declining sugar cane industry.

“Hemp requires large machinery and mechanisms. If we failed to mechanise the sugar industry, we are also going to look at the same challenges with hemp. Ganja is our low-hanging fruit, and we have to pick it,” Ellis stated.


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