Anthony Barrett

In a recently published analysis, the reputable market research firm Grand View Research Inc., estimated that the global legal marijuana market will reach USD 66.3 billion by the end of 2025. That’s six years from now. That estimation begets the question: what will be Jamaica’s share of that anticipated financial/economic windfall? Further, how prepared are we, as a nation, to capitalize on our world-renown ganja product? In its global analysis of market production, Grand View Research Inc. did not list Jamaica as a major player.

I will cite the following to buttress that conclusion; Legalization of medicinal marijuana and decriminalization in some countries has led to a significant decrease in the black market, as people are resorting to legally purchasing cannabis for medicinal as well as recreational use. Moreover, government earnings through taxation are further viewed as an opportunity for countries to earn revenues. Presence of a large customer pool and legalization of medical marijuana in U.S. and Canada is expected propel the product demand from North America.

However, legalization of medicinal cannabis in European countries, accompanied by stringent rules and regulations regarding the product sale and cultivation, may limit the overall growth in Europe and in turn for the global market. Other promising markets for Cannabis are Australia, Germany, Poland, Colombia, Uruguay, and Israel. Israel is currently at the forefront of providing technology and knowledge transfer to the other world markets. As the newer markets such as the U.K. and Thailand create their legal structure for cannabis, the revenue growth is expected to witness significant growth. Moreover, countries like South Africa and New Zealand are discussing legalization for medicinal marijuana and may emerge as viable markets in the forthcoming years.

Jamaica cannot afford to lag behind these countries named in the analysis. It is a no brainer that we have an ideal product and room stock here to create a viable medicinal marijuana industry which can be tied to our tourism product. Let us not forget that many tourists do not come here for our sea, sand, sun, beautiful girls and rent-a- dreads. Some do come for our ganja. Now, we have the opportunity to legitimize their usage in partaking of the blessed weed.

Likewise, we cannot afford to not capitalize on the bourgeoning legal export market. As Jamaicans, we have some of the most enviable illegal exportation mechanisms for illicit marijuana. We do not need those mechanisms for the exportation of legal marijuana. What we need are the legislative frameworks through which we can exploit and export our well awarded/regarded product.

In that vein, I posit that Jamaica has the necessary production infrastructure, land, water and manpower. We can go to market with lower prices than our global competitors due to affordable land, relatively low wages and an abundance of skilled farm hands who have toiled in illegal ganja fields since its prohibition more than a century ago.

The obstacles to full participation in the legal exportation are many and varied. In that context, this past week, Agriculture Minister, Audley Shaw, welcomed the easing of one such hindrance, the passage of the SAFE Banking Act in the USA by the US House of Representative.  Shaw’s exuberance might have been premature because the Act still faces obstacles in the US Senate, but Jamaica needs to put the requisite legislations in place to anticipate and be ahead of US Senate’s adoption of the House of Representative’s bill.

Let me warn, the Jamaican government needs to act with alacrity to capitalize on the exportation of our beloved product. Already, Colombia is ahead of us in the legal exportation of medicinal marijuana to legal medicinal host countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom. Unlike Colombia, Jamaica is well positioned as a Commonwealth country to exploit both markets given our historical trade agreements with both. We as a nation must exploit and utilize our most favored status with those countries.

According to the US-based National Public Radio, “Rather than a symbol of the country’s dark past of narco-fueled violence, Colombian drugs can now be used to treat people. At least that’s the bet of a growing number of entrepreneurs who are building vast marijuana plantations and state-of-the-art pharmaceutical laboratories that produce everything from cannabis-based pain relievers for cancer patients to dog treats that act as calming agents.

Other countries are passing laws to permit the production, import and export of medical marijuana, but Colombia has a leg up because it did so three years ago, says Rodrigo Arcila, president of the Colombian Cannabis Industry Association. He said the group’s 29-member companies have invested more than $600 million in building medical marijuana facilities”.

With all the above, we must, as a nation, examine the role of longstanding ganja farmers in the bourgeoning ganja market. I have seen some local exotic plants which respected connoisseurs have given kudos to. My bredren and schoolmate, Chung, has fallen into that category. He has one the most potent of all desired Jamaican species, but he cannot market it. Why? Is there exclusivity in exportation, farming, marketing and ganja medicinal clinics? Do you have to be uptown to get an equitable share of the market, despite years of developing the product? Ergo, are traditional ganja farmers deliberately excluded by governmental inertia or the “brown skinned bias”?

It is not good for a writer to interject personal biases into an article. I find that practice disconcerting but, today, I must make an exception. From my vantage point, as an owner of some of the most arable and traditional ganja bearing lands n St. Thomas, lands previously owned by the Ethiopian Zion Coptic Church, I have embarked on cultivating the three plants our government recommended we can legally produce. Through advice from old ganja farmers in St. Thomas, I have been able to develop a more potent strain of the popular and powerful Kilmarnock St. Elizabeth ICE Weed on my property. Each plant has yielded 8 lbs after the separation and drying process. Let us use this as an example of what the potential can be for every Jamaican on minimal amounts of land.

As background, let me iterate, the Coptics, in the guise of a religious and benevolent entity, were a religious cult from the USA which, incidentally, were the largest and the most profligate and major illegal exporters of ganja from Jamaica during the 1970s and 1980s. Farmers, day labourers who packaged the product and those involved in exports were handsomely rewarded. Police officers and low level technocrats got rich. Today, that same exclusivity continues to obtain. Where and what will be the role of those who toiled, tweaked existing species, and were imprisoned and scarred by society for their participation in the industry?

Whilst I fulsomely support the benefits to our national coffers, we must be cognizant of the local farmers (sic) agronomists, who have created this enviable industry. We cannot allow the white and near white of the plantocracy to control or dominate an industry which they publicly turned their collective and gentrified noses upon. They must be shunted to the back of the line. Only the Jamaican government has that authority to protect indigenous farmers. Let’s hope Senator Charles Sinclair can articulate our vision in the Upper House of Parliament because without legislative protection, small ganja farmers will be doomed and prohibited from benefitting from this new, legal industry.



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