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Shaw says no to PC Bank as financial institution for ganja

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Senior staff reporter
saundersa@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, April 25, 2019

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MINISTER with responsibility for agriculture, industry and commerce Audley Shaw says he does not support the idea of the National People's Cooperative Bank being transformed into a dedicated financial institution for the legal cannabis industry.

The proposal was made by the Ganja Growers and Producers Association (GGPA), in its position on the urgent need for financial services for the country's fledgling legal marijuana industry.

“I think the PC Bank needs to continue to be the PC Bank; we want other people who want loans too…so I wouldn't be in support of that,” Shaw said yesterday at a post-Sectoral Debate press conference at his ministry at Hope Gardens in St Andrew.

Special advisor to the GGPA Orville Silvera had suggested in a Jamaica Observer interview, that the country already has infrastructure in the form of the PC Bank, and that having this institution as a dedicated bank for ganja would neutralise the intermingling of cannabis money with the mainstream banking system. This, he said, was one of the solutions to bankers' fear of handling finances linked to ganja.

Minister Shaw said, however, that the route being taken by Jamaica is heavily lobbying the United States, through the country's ambassador in Washington, to relax the rules to allow utilisation of the correspondent banking system for legal cannabis.

“Our ambassador is hard at work it. We are using a window of opportunity (where) President Trump recently announced that they will be allowing the growing of hemp for medicinal purposes and in that regard they are beginning to relax some of the banking rules surrounding that,” he explained.

He said the Jamaican Government is lobbying in further accommodation of the relaxation of those policies, as part of its efforts to get cannabis banking off the ground.

“Right now the corresponding banking arrangements for Jamaica are primarily routed through the US, and the US still has a ban on ganja businesses with a high THC being done through the formal banking system. It's something we have to be lobbying in an aggressive way because it does militate against our steady progress,” he said. The main psychoactive or mind-altering element of the cannabis plant is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), said Shaw.

He pointed out that some companies are in fact finding ways around the challenge for cannabis financial transactions, currently presented by the US banking system. “For instance, some countries outside of the US are moving the money in legitimate licensed operations to Europe and they're finding ways around the American banking system. For now, our banking system is inextricably linked with the American system so that's why we are doing the lobbying that we are doing now,” he stated.

The possession and smoking of specified quantities of ganja, and its use for medical, therapeutic and scientific purposes was decriminalised through changes to the Dangerous Drugs Act in 2015.

On Tuesday the agriculture and commerce minister told Parliament that the Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA) was contemplating changes to the existing regulations in keeping with the development of the local and global medical cannabis industry. He said drafting instructions of regulations concerning import, export and trans-shipment are also to be completed in the near future.

The industry is regulated by the CLA, which Minister Shaw said had received 627 applications, and issued 33 licences to the medical cannabis industry. One hundred and seventy-eight applications, meanwhile, have received conditional approval, having passed the CLA's due diligence process and carrying out preparatory work to transition to the licensing stage.


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