Gov't to formulate local cannabis policy following Canadian company backlash
HILL... ministry is very committed in supporting and building the cannabis industry in Jamaica (Photo: Naphtali Junior)

IN response to the uproar from local ganja farmers who were upset that a licence had been granted to a company to import Canadian cannabis into Jamaica, Industry, Investment and Commerce Minister Senator Aubyn Hill says the Government will be working to develop a policy that will better serve the local cannabis industry.

Industry players are particularly upset that Canada, a country that does not allow Jamaican cannabis exports into its market, could be granted permission to export to Jamaica.

The company, Cannaviva Jamaica Limited, applied for and was granted the necessary permits by the Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA) Board.

"One never wants to hear all this noise, but when you hear the noise you have to consider and think and act and adjust and make sure it works," the minister said.

Hill, who was speaking at a press conference at Jamaica House on Monday, said he understands "the pain that people feel when they hear… about Jamaica importing cannabis from Canada".

He assured that the ministry is "very committed in supporting and building the cannabis industry in Jamaica", noting that he will be meeting with cannabis industry players face to face to hear directly from them about their concerns.

"Certainly, why I'm going to talk to the practitioners in the business is to hear what they say, talk with my team in the ministry, fashion a policy, and make the adjustments… All the people in the [cannabis] business, I want to hear from you. You don't have to tell me [through] social media," he said.

Hill said while he cannot interfere with what the CLA does, "I must be fully and properly informed… I have been looking at what the CLA does, but I'm now looking at the industry," he said.

The minister said the CLA, through its Application Review and Decision-making Sub-committee has the authority to grant licences for cannabis, which is a schedule 1 drug under the 1961 Single Convention Act. A schedule 1 drug has to be prescribed every time it is used by someone, otherwise it is being used illegally.

Hill noted that the only import authorisation that has been utilised by Cannaviva is for a strain of cannabis that is not in Jamaica called tranquil elephantiser.

"We don't have that here and they brought in 44 pounds of this particular strain that they use in five of their branches, so each branch would come out at less than nine pounds.

They requested other licenses, but one expired and one was never approved," he said.

According to the CLA, there are 355 named cannabis strains listed on file.

The minister said the Government has authorised 224 export arrangements and that the total number used is 32.

"The total amount that we have approved is actually 2.5 million pounds so far between 2018 and now… We have exported 1,608 pounds of ganja and you know that's a lot of ganja," he said.

Hill stressed that as a cannabis-exporting country "we have a lot to benefit from and… we want to export more, we want this industry to grow more".

"We want to make sure that we find ways to export and I am going to work with the practitioners to find new markets, some of them that we don't have. It's a schedule 1 drug so you will have to look at exporting only medicinal cannabis, so we have to find particular markets and make sure we can get into those markets," he said.

In the meantime, Minister Hill said that he will be bringing his scheduled Canadian trip forward to May.

He said this trade mission will also involve official meetings, "and, of course, the cannabis issue is going to be on my agenda when I go to Canada".

"Trade arrangements take long to be done, so don't expect me to come back and announce that we have a trade deal. That's not how a trade deal works. The World Trade Organization probably took 25 or 30 years to be established. We don't expect that long because it's bilateral, but it's not going to be overnight," he said.

BY ALECIA SMITH Senior staff reporter

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