There has been much discussion about the possibilities for the newly emerging legal ganja industry and its potential impact on the lives of Jamaicans and the Jamaican economy. Both of the political parties in the recent election made mention of the sector and, to their credit, neither sought to politicise what can be a game-changer for many of our citizens.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness also made specific mention of the potential of the industry in his inaugural address, as did Finance Minister Audley Shaw and others. It is therefore germane, and perhaps might be helpful, in understanding the possibilities if the vision of the cannabis sector that was developed during my tenure as chair of the Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA) was shared publicly.
I will also share the work that was done in laying the foundation for bringing this vision into being, and which, I hope, will continue until Jamaica has achieved the benefit of the social transformation that is possible from the new ganja industries, if properly implemented.
Jamaica will have an industry in which small farmers use industry best practices to grow various indigenous cultivars of ganja to deliver specific benefits to their target market. Every farmer will have a specific market that will pay him or her a good price from each crop. Farmers will earn at least five to 10 times more from new industry business than what is now the case for those supplying the existing illicit trade.
Farmers will supply a range of buyers in specific market channels, with information on prices being paid across the market for different cultivars and products being available to the entire value chain, allowing for informed decision-making. Multiple farmers will supply different varieties of medicinal ganja to a “herb” house, or therapeutic centre, primarily located in a rural community in which the ganja is grown or traditionally available. This will allow entire communities to develop community-based tourism experiences, including therapeutic centres and herb houses for a growing number of visitors. The herb house or therapeutic centre is an integrated part of a variety of unique experiences of community life: farm tours, hiking, trails, therapy, and relaxation.
Jamaica will be world-renowned for its therapeutic centres, offering cutting-edge therapies for a range of illnesses using ganja. Therapeutic centres offer a variety of experiences, treatments, baths, massages, and other forms of therapy for which visitors pay premium prices. Each centre or community will be specifically branded and marketed globally, as has been happening with aspects of the Negril experience. Our tea (herb) houses offer unmatched but varied experiences for visitors, each branding its offerings and partnering with specific farms, locally and throughout the island. Many farms and treatment centres will be supported by the work of traditional breeders whose output will be in demand for high value, intellectual property (IP)-protected varieties.
As the sector develops, Jamaica will be acknowledged globally as the repository for traditional knowledge on ganja and its application to treat a range of illness. The world's leading biotechnology and wellness firms will flock to Jamaica to set up research centres to benefit from this knowledge, our indigenous strains and locally developed therapies. Local and international firms will undertake cutting-edge research in facilities located not only in Kingston but geographically diverse, according to the ease of access of certain strains, traditional knowledge and to leverage their linkages to world-renowned treatment centres in the global marketplace. The outcome of these partnerships will be that Jamaica produces a range of high-value treatments, neutraceuticals, pharmaceuticals, and herbal products from ganja and hemp for global distribution and sale. To be branded “Jamaican”, they can only be produced here.
By this time, we have developed a hemp industry selling high-value clothes and other finished goods, branded and made in Jamaica for export to the world, in a manner similar to sea island cotton. In all of this, IP protection is critical and the Jamaica Intellectual Property Office will be very active in supporting and protecting the various businesses in the sector. Finally, the Rastafarian community, as a whole, and individual members thereof will, by this time, have created the kind of wealth that Native Indian communities in the US are doing now by leveraging their brand into a range of products for which the consumers are willing to pay premium prices.
In this scenario, not only would Jamaica have delivered on its promise of social transformation, greater social equity and wealth creation for many of its citizens, we would also have created new jobs, new industries, new opportunities and greater wealth in communities across the country. By enabling high-paying employment opportunities in rural and diverse communities which people can create for themselves, we will have made it attractive for (particularly) the youth and those with knowledge of and linkages to our traditional practices to stay in the rural areas and make a good living.
By having this vision incorporated into our most important industries — tourism, manufacturing and agriculture — we would have created sustainable well-paying jobs which will not easily be affected by the vagaries of the global economy and industries with significant backward and forward linkages. Jamaica will have taken a giant step forward in delivering on its promise to its people and making Vision 2030 a reality.
The CLA has been designed and is operating to bring this vision into being. In the last nine months we created the institutional framework, relationships, and now the regulatory underpinnings to do so. The novel system of management of the industry would involve multiple modes of surveillance, with 24 hours a day, seven days a week oversight of the industry, and is unlike anything existing in Jamaica today. Similarly, it was envisaged that the entire industry would operate in a manner to completely insulate all business transactions from contamination with illicit funds derived from money laundering or the trading in illicit substances. The systems have already been designed and there is no doubt that what is envisaged is doable.
What is even more unique in the Jamaican context is that the entire system for the management of the industry was designed to be fully self-funded. In fact, properly implemented, in the future it would contribute significantly to Jamaica's economic growth, social equity and the prosperity of many ordinary people and communities around the country. And it will be fully sustainable.
Much is left to be done, but as long as we remain committed to realising the critical success factors in achieving this vision, its attainment is assured.
Critical success factors
The critical factors and considerations that will make this vision a reality are:
* Absolute integrity of the board of the CLA;
* Absolute freedom of the cannabis sector from contamination with the proceeds from money laundering and narcotics trafficking, and the ability to clearly and consistently demonstrate this to Jamaica's international trade and development partners and the international financial sector;
* Absolute freedom from, and protection against contamination of the legal ganja (cannabis) industries with product from the illegal sector;
* Absolute freedom from political or any other type of interference;
* Focused and effective engagement and inclusion of the pioneers of the ganja industry, the small farmers, breeders, Rastafarians and others in the development of the sector to their personal benefit and that of their communities in their disparate locations throughout the island;
* Careful, considered, balanced, fair and policy-driven inclusion of other players, local and international, in the nascent industry in a manner that does not diminish or prejudice the interests of those who may have fewer financial resources but on whose back this opportunity for wealth creation has been built;
* Effective efforts to identify and engage the unmatched domestic expertise in the range of different endemic strains and cultivars, particularly of cannabis sativa (the original “Jamaican ganja”) which they can show to have specific properties;
* Characterisation of the nature of these cultivars and strains through rigorous scientific research, supported by effective intellectual property protection so that their creators and the country as a whole can retain control of them and benefit;
* Effective leveraging of the benefit of the association of ganja with Jamaica, Rastafari and wholesome, holistic healing which is the heart of the medicinal marijuana industry;
* The effective implementation of the systems of commerce, security and controls which have been carefully and thoughtfully developed by the CLA for Jamaica's social, economic and cultural realities while meeting our international obligations.
Finally, we must remain mindful that the International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR 2015), which was recently released and presented to the US Congress, lists Jamaica as a major producer and exporter of illicit marijuana (ganja). This means that we remain high on the list of countries whose efforts to create a “legal” marijuana industry will be viewed with great suspicion by those involved in the fight against drug trafficking and the money laundering that typically accompanies such activities. While this is something we must actively seek to change, as a nation seeking to benefit from the newly decriminalised medicinal marijuana industry, we must be cognisant that our every move, our every step, will be closely scrutinised. We must therefore ensure that we are never found wanting and never allow the scourge of illegality to taint this nascent sector. We must show, as we have done in other fields, that Jamaica can lead all nations in creating a transformative, highly beneficial, world-class legal medicinal ganja industry that will cause the world to beat a path to our shores. We must be steadfast and never waver in our commitment to our international obligations, even as we operate in our own national interest and within our sovereign rights to the benefit of our nation.
As Chair of the CLA, I was and remain absolutely convinced that we can do this while meeting all of the critical success factors detailed above. All we need is the self-confidence, discipline, and self-belief so aptly demonstrated by those global heroes of Jamaican descent: Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Usain Bolt, and Bob Marley. If they as Jamaicans can do it, so can we.
Dr André Gordon, PhD, CFS, is a scientist, businessman and past president of the Jamaica Exporters' Association. He is also past chair of the board of the Cannabis Licensing Authority. Send comments to the Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.