Give our ganja a fighting chanceMonday, May 03, 2021
“Coming from the country with my bag a collie
I buck up on a DC, him want fi hold me...
The children crying fi hunger and I-man a suffer
So you've got to see, it's just collie that feeds me
Fifty cents a stick, and a dollar a quarter,
That's what keeps me alive, me and my two kids and wife...”
WHEN Sugar Minott published Oh Mr DC, circa 1978, his lyrics spoke to the fragile socio-economic conditions of rural Jamaicans and their reliance on planting illegal cannabis for survival. Little did he know that there would come a time when it would be okay in Jamaica and other parts of the world to drive with a 'little collie' or cannabis.
Today, there are close to 50 countries across world that have legalised the medicinal use of cannabis, and over 15 where smoking a 'spliff' is no longer a criminal offence. All of these countries are serious about building out their domestic capacity to meet the global demand for cannabis products which is expected to reach US$97.3 billion by 2026.
In the United States of America there are only three states in which it is still illegal to consume cannabis, either recreationally or medicinally. Current estimates value the US cannabis industry at US$61 billion, where 12 per cent of all Americans are regarded as regular users, and ordinary consumers purchase 67 per cent more cannabis topical products for their skincare and arthritis pain, which they access in the aisles of supermarket chains such as Publix. Perhaps this could account for why 68 per cent of Americans are in favour of removing all restrictions on cannabis as more of them seek natural products for their health.
Cannabis is already big business, and will get much bigger very soon as more products become infused with its properties. In addition to cannabis pharmaceuticals to treat anxiety, insomnia, migraine headaches, cancer nausea, and epilepsy, there are edible products, including water, chocolate, pastries and beer.
We have a competitive advantage of Jamaican cannabis being perceived as the best in the world. But this sentiment is disappearing quickly as more and more countries legalise and produce the substance. If we don't act fast, very soon our 'ganja' will become like any other commodity in the global marketplace, where we will have to compete in lowering the price rather than having a premium product able to command a higher price. Additionally, large established companies with first-mover advantage and capital are likely to win this race as they already have a head start.
The big cigarette and liquor companies have already prepared themselves and will take advantage of the long-term benefits of cannabis, and as such registered their brands associated for 'social smokers'. The top five cannabis companies and their levels of market capitalisation are: Canopy Growth, US$9.1 billion; Curaleaf Holdings, US$7.92 billion; Green Thumb Industries, US$5.21 billion; Innovative Industrial Properties, US$4.06 billion; and Trulive Cannabis, US$3.71 billion. Canopy Growth, for example, is a subsidiary of Consolation Brands, a Fortune 500 company that is the largest import beer company in the United States, with over 9,000 employees distributing 100 beer brands worldwide.
How will Jamaica get a piece of this market and position our Jamaican cannabis products on the global retail shelves in the eyes of consumers yearning for a taste of Jamaica?
For Jamaica to compete successfully against any one of these global players it will require significant capital, international Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) and pharmaceutical production capacity, distribution channels and first class marketing. Currently, there is no company in Jamaica structured to meet these standards. Moreover, there is no approved strategic plan at this time to facilitate the export of Jamaican-grown cannabis or products to markets outside of Jamaica. Instead, what we have are a few relatively small ganja farms and 'herb houses' selling to locals and tourists.
What is the solution?
In my view we must establish a National Ganja Production Lab capable of competing with the best in the world. This facility would be no less than 200,000 square feet and have the equipment capable of research and development of a full range of recreational and pharmaceutical cannabis products for local use and export. Our goal should be to supply cannabidiol (CBD) kiosks in the aisles of supermarkets in Europe, Africa, Asia, and North America, with highly specialised, value-added, Jamaican-branded cannabis products.
Imagine ganja jerk sauce, ganja-infused Blue Mountain Coffee delights, Jamaican ganja skin-firming lotion, and Jamaican ganja 'grabba' cigarettes added to the mix of products our local small manufacturers are currently making.
How do we fund this facility?
First, the Government needs to accept this as a real legal opportunity for export trade and development by providing the land as equity to the project and designating the area a special economic zone (SEZ) with the relevant permits and duty-free access for equipment.
A proper business plan, prepared by an international auditing firm, would be the basis for listing this entity on the stock exchange to give Jamaicans and the National Insurance Fund (NIF) the opportunity to invest. The essential business model would be for the company to purchase the raw materials from approved small farmers for the production of Jamaican cannabis products. The company would also contract manufacturing on behalf of farmers or entertainers for their own personal branded products. Contract manufacturing, while new to Jamaica, is an established practice worldwide.
It is imperative that the National Ganja Production Lab is properly capitalised to minimise any dependence on bank financing. Access to bank financing and conducting international wire transfers have been major hurdles to entering the cannabis industry as the US Federal Government imposes restrictions on the US banks that our local banks deal with. Hopefully, with the recent approval of the cannabis banking reform legislation by the US House of Representatives (known as the Safe Banking Act) more of our local financial institutions will assist cannabis businesses without fear of punishment.
On April 5, 2014 the Jamaica Ganja Growers Association was formed. A formidable organisation with 3,000 members and active parish associations in St Catherine, Westmorland, St Thomas, Trelawny, St Mary, and Clarendon. Seven years later, our established bureaucracy is locking most of its members out from adding meaningful value to the cannabis supply chain.
“So give me a chance, Sah, an make mi gwaan little faster, Just let me pass through, and Jah will bless you…”
It was our small farmers who, decades ago, took the risk of growing ganja illegally and suffered at the hands of police for something which is now a global sensation and legal in several countries. However, no Jamaican small farmer with the historical know-how will ever meet the standards now required by the Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA) to grow ganja, much less the international standards for production. We have an obligation to ensure they benefit from this economic opportunity as suppliers. Therefore, the establishment of a National Ganja Production Lab must be a priority to allow our small farmers the opportunity to supply the facility with 'raw ganja' so we may claim our global economic stake in an industry that is genetically connected to Jamaica.
Lisa Hanna is a Member of Parliament and People's People's National Party spokesperson on foreign affairs and foreign trade.