Thu | Apr 2, 2020

Medicinal marijuana industry stalling - Government urged to amend law to make small farmers the centre of sector

Published:Wednesday | February 26, 2020 | 12:08 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer

President of the Ganja Growers and Producers Association Jamaica, Richard Crawford, is beseeching the Government to review legislation governing the fledgling medical marijuana industry to allow small farmers a greater stake.

His assessment is being backed by Dr André Gordon, former chairman of the Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA).

In 2015, the Portia Simpson Miller administration passed the Dangerous Drugs Amendment Act. It was widely said to be a progressive and far-reaching piece of legislation.

Five years removed, problems are being highlighted, with small farmers being the most vocal in their calls for a greater piece of the cash-rich industry.

Crawford believes that without a further amendment to the act, small farmers will ultimately suffer at the hands of the bigger industry players.

“I have to support a call for the Government to have fresh look at the current legislation because it is a barrier,” Crawford said.

“Ironically, we have an illegal industry because of the convention, so you decriminalise it partially but the barriers and regulations to get to the legal stage defeat a lot of people.”

He told The Gleaner that Caribbean countries such as St Vincent and the Grenadines have already moved their legislation forward, making their laws modern and more attuned to small farmers.

“Other countries have been able to sit and watch the industry and look at Jamaica and have learnt from our mistakes or what we have not done. But certainly our own legislation has to be modernised in order for us to move forward,” he stated.

PROGRESS MADE

Gordon said some amount of progress has been made in the five years since the amendment to the legislation was passed in Parliament, but believes a lot more could have been done if the industry was cohesive.

“We have made a lot of progress; today we have well over 50 licensees that both grow and who have dispensaries. We would have seen that some of them are expanding.

“But what is true is that we have not made the sort of progress we would have liked, and we have not moved as fast as we would have liked. Personally, I would have expected a more cohesive overall policy and developmental programme going forward for the industry,” said Gordon.

At the same time, the former CLA head is of the view that the industry remains fragmented, and that there is no clear vision as to how it should develop.

Gordon pointed out that a national programme is needed if the intent is to impact small ganja farmers similar to what is happening in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

“In that country, the government made the decision up front that in order for the industry to really develop, they had to transition the illegal farmers into the legal industry,” stated Gordon.

The overall approach by the Government in St Vincent was to give every current cannabis farmer the opportunity to become legal, and have provided about 250 acres of land to all cannabis farmers, as well as hire several companies to train persons in the industry.

paul.clarke@gleanerjm.com