Mon | Mar 18, 2019

Weed Ed | What is required for Jamaica to export its hi-grade ganja

Published:Monday | February 11, 2019 | 12:18 AMLevaugh Flynn/Contributor

Jamaica’s decriminalisation of ganja in 2015 brought with it many expectations, one being the ability to export its hi-grade herb.

With a relatively small marketplace (a 2016-2017 Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey says 17 per cent of Jamaicans use ganja), investors are eager to expand their market base beyond Jamaica’s 2.9 million citizens.

Given Jamaica’s ideal growing conditions and its reputation for producing high-quality varieties, with potentially unique medicinal applications, a licensed producer would have a field of endless opportunities if it developed an international market for its strain. Intellectual property rights protecting that strain would also allow the producer to maximise its earning potential.

That is the direction in which Israel is heading. The country’s pioneering work in cannabis research and technology and its rich IP bank will give it an advantage in the global marketplace. In December 2018, the Israeli Government announced that it had passed a bill allowing for the export of medical cannabis. This move will most likely increase investment in the country’s rich cannabis industry resources and will bring in US$265 million in taxes annually.

EXPORT LEGISLATION

Locally, the Cannabis Licensing Authority is currently fine-tuning the details for an export-import legislative framework, which will also require amendments to the Health Act and the Food and Drugs Act.

But that is just the beginning.

Even with legislation in place governing the trade of cannabis, Jamaica’s manufacturing standards must match those of the importing nation.

This aspect is being led by the Bureau of Standards Jamaica Cannabis Technical Committee. Chairman Rory Liu says the committee is pulling best practices from the World Health Organization’s (WHO) agriculture regulations and international standards bodies such as FOCUS and ASTM International and will be “modifying them for Jamaica for all the producers to follow”.

Liu, who is also a cannabis entrepreneur, says the BSJ’s normal timeline for establishing manufacturing standards is usually 12-18 months but that the committee is pushing to have them completed much sooner. The process is a multiagency collaborative effort with agriculture, medical and scientific expertise and he said that the recommendations would also be made available for public consensus.

“The standards we are creating are a baseline but internationally recognised,” said Liu. “Individual companies seeking to export will still have to follow the importing country’s recommendations.”

This is quite likely where local companies will face their biggest challenge. Trading blocs such as the European Union and the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement are guided by their own set of standards for pharmaceutical and nutraceutical products, the classification for which medical ganja would apply. A local company hoping to do trade with the Netherlands, for example, would have to meet EU-GMP (good manufacturing practices) specifications, which provides guidance for manufacturing, testing, and quality assurance. Generally, these standards are a rigorous and costly process.

EXCEPTIONS

On September 27, 2018, Timeless Herbal Care made headlines when it announced that it would be the first Jamaican company to legally export cannabis, albeit without the requisite laws in place. Timeless, with the help of the Government, successfully negotiated with Health Canada to export its cannabis oil for a detailed analysis of its chemical profile and potential medicinal applications.

Richard ‘Dickie’ Crawford, a consultant with Timeless, said that the company had to first send evidence of the oil’s purity, which was analysed by the Caribbean Toxicology Unit at the University of the West Indies.

“CARITOX labs did an initial analysis, and the results showed there were no contaminants and the product was of good quality, and Health Canada was satisfied with that,” said Crawford.

The process also included acquiring an import permit from Health Canada and an export permit from Jamaica’s Ministry of Health.

“That export from Timeless,” Crawford added, “has paved the way for other processors in Jamaica to use that platform later on to trade with Canada.”

Crawford, like many industry insiders, admits that the global cannabis industry is on the verge of exploding. US lawmakers have already tabled a bill for the federal legalisation of ganja, which is seen as the key strategic move that will trigger not only similar legislation in other countries, but have a knock-on effect on the banking and pharmaceutical sectors.

UNCONVENTIONS

Another consideration in the international trade of cannabis are the UN drug control conventions, namely the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 as amended by the 1972 Protocol, the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971, and the United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988.

Most countries are signatories to these treaties.

A developed nation such as Canada can use its diplomatic leverage to navigate international law as seen with its decision to legalise recreational marijuana use last October. And while the WHO recently made a recommendation for the reclassification of ganja in international laws to reflect its true medicinal applications, developing nations like Jamaica must tread carefully while the plant remains a controlled substance.

There is also a quota system governed by the United Nations’ International Narcotics Control Board that puts a cap on the amount of ganja a country can produce in a calendar year.

The solution to this for small Caribbean nations is a unified approach, according to the CARICOM Regional Commission on Marijuana. In its report, published last June, the Commission said,

“There is need for CARICOM to have a strong, unified position if it is to lend a persuasive voice to the calls for much needed reform of the relevant conventions. The long history and cultural significance of cannabis in the region makes CARICOM a potentially authoritative player in this process but only if it proceeds as a powerful, unified, regional bloc of states ... at the very least, how to create exceptions, in the law, is needed.”

One local investor, who preferred not to be identified, said his best-case scenario is a five- to 10-year period for Jamaica to be a qualified exporter of medical ganja.

With no less than three new herb houses scheduled to be opened in the coming months, and several more in waiting, this may very well mean an insanely competitive local market.