Jamaica announced that it would authorize a regulated medical marijuana industry and decriminalize small amounts of weed in 2015, but they are yet to cash in significantly like other countries in the world. In the US, where a similar approach was taken in multiple states, Forbes Magazine reported that the marijuana industry had raked in US$17.5 billion in 2020, which represented a 46% increase from 2019. Jamaica’s industry hasn’t scratched the financial surface like this.
Just two months ago, Jamaica faced a shortage of the herb due to an increase in local consumption and a drop in the number of marijuana farmers. She added that the island faced heavy rains, which were followed by a drought. Member of Parliament Lisa Hanna may have come up with a solution to help aid the industry. She recently suggested that the government use money, which was intended for a new parliament building, to construct a ganja lab instead.
During a parliament sitting in March, she said: “The government must establish and fund a facility in partnership with one of our universities to allow small farmers to manufacture and process their raw weed, for a fee, into products that the market demands.”
She added: “This must be a national lab, so when the Israelites or Americans hear about it, they know that they can come to the Jamaican national ganja lab. This lab must also have the responsibility of promoting Jamaican ganja- the best in the world.”
Her suggestion was met with elation from several marijuana advocates and entertainers. The MP explained her plan further and indicated that the ganja lab would help to drive the scientific research for cannabis. This would bring standardization to the product that is grown, which can then be used to make products for export. According to reports, the new parliament building would cost about US$50 million (about J$7.5 billion). That’s according to the Urban Development Corporation.
Veteran conscious dancehall entertainer, Tony Rebel, was one of the entertainers who believe that the idea should be welcomed by the government. The “Jah By My Side” singer, who spoke with the STAR said that Hanna’s ambitions were in line with persons like Professor Manley West and Dr. Albert Lockhart. Two men who were instrumental in the medical marijuana research field and whose study eventually contributed to the glaucoma treatment called Canasol.
“So in the request of making a lab in Jamaica, it is very important as the lab could service our own people nationally and possibly the Caribbean,” he added. He, like many others in the industry, is waiting for the export market to open up for the real profits to begin rolling in. He added: “but the exportation of it hasn’t been opened up as yet and that’s where my interests are.”
Another reggae artiste and marijuana supporter, Chezidek, also spoke with the STAR and shared his thoughts on the matter. He would be happy to welcome the lab as “the youths have to come and study the marijuana to the fullest.”
The artist, who is most popularly known for his hit single “Leave The Trees”, also said the idea was good for breaking the barriers about how people consider the herb. It could help to erase the old way of thinking of marijuana as a drug, he added.
For Chezidek, there should also be some sort of compensation from the government for all the years of persecution as well. He saw the situation as one where the persecutors were now making all the profits off of those that they had persecuted for years. He added, “for the use of a tree given to us by the Almighty that they are now trying to capitalise on.”
His stance on the matter comes because he wants to ensure that the poor man will also be able to benefit from the decriminalization of marijuana. He believes that it should now be treated like any other crop.
“The Government should work with the people like they do for other crops. I want to see the poor man benefit from ganja. Give us the space to grow our own ganja and sell it and redesign the system so that the small man isn’t limited to just five trees,” he continued.
JACANA’s quality assurance manager Stephen-Jon Brown also agreed with the sentiments being expressed and urged the government to move forward with a plan for a ganja lab.
“As it stands now some labs are making efforts to improve, especially the Bureau of Standards Jamaica. However, if these labs don’t act quickly, we will fail to get credible results and this will greatly affect our chances of exporting,” he said.
MP Hanna has also taken issue with the fact that the small farmer is yet to reap the benefits of the marijuana industry. During the same parliament sitting in March in which she suggested the marijuana lab, she said: “Today, no small farmer with historical know-how will ever meet the standards required for production. The licensing authority is approaching it as if every applicant wants to be an exporter. This established bureaucracy is locking out our small farmers.
She added: “The same ones who created the product so many years ago and suffered at the hands of the police for something which is now a global sensation and is legal in several countries have no way of getting a slice of the pie. If those small farmers never go up in the hills for three/four months and hide, you wouldn’t know ’bout Jamaican good ganja,” she said.