Throwing Senator Aubyn Hill under the ganja bus
Senator Aubyn Hill

In 2014, ophthalmologist Dr Albert Lockhart who, with Dr Manley West, gave the world its first marijuana-derived medicines for treating glaucoma and asthma, said Jamaica was 40 years behind in development of a ganja industry.

At that time, Dr Lockhart cautioned, in an interview with this newspaper, that Jamaica was at risk of missing the boat, and forewarned: "All the big countries are going to be ahead of us and we could end up importing ganja products, if we keep stalling."

We were brought back to this prophetic utterance, made almost nine years ago, by the recent brouhaha over the granting by the Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA) of a permit to a local company, Cannaviva Jamaica Limited, to import cannabis from Canada.

The granting of the import permit sparked outrage, particularly among small ganja farmers, on grounds that Canada does not import cannabis from Jamaica and so Jamaica should reciprocate.

Senator Aubyn Hill, the minister of industry, commerce, and investment under whose portfolio the CLA falls, has assured the country that he knows nothing of a ban in Canada on Jamaican cannabis.

That has not stopped Mr Hill's Opposition counterpart Mr Anthony Hylton from weighing in on the side of the ganja farmers and condemning the Government for granting the import licence.

It has not helped that Prime Minister Andrew Holness, in his budget speech to Parliament last week, threw Mr Hill under the bus by declaring: "I agree with the farmers – It's not the minister's fault, but he's responsible."

Dr Lockhart's 2014 warning has come to pass, and that means that Jamaica is now pretty much half a century behind where he and his research partners were when they pioneered Canasol for glaucoma and Asmasol for asthma in the early 1970s.

The nascent ganja industry here is ruled by sentiment and politics, and not by serious trade principles. We do not expect that it would have been easy-going, but neither should we have been this far behind.

Whether Canada imports Jamaican cannabis or does not should not prevent local companies from doing business with that North American country. No country is under any obligation to buy goods from us; just as we are not obligated to buy from them. Canada buys many products from us without demanding that we buy similar goods from them.

Moreover, the leadership of the ganja industry must tell the small traditional farmers the truth. As they operate in their disparate hills and valleys it will take time to get them up to scratch to become formal traders in ganja. The business model that is necessary for now is that they should sell their ganja to the bigger farmers at a fair price.

When the hotel industry ran into problems trying to buy agricultural products from small farmers who could not produce in sufficient quantities and on time, the big hoteliers had to save them by encouraging them to sell their cash crops to one big distributor.

Let's forget the sentimentality about small ganja farmers becoming big time exporters overnight, and keep the politicking out of the ganja industry which, we all know, is simply about vote-getting.

Otherwise, let us prepare to remain right where we are for another 50 years.

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