When people around the world think of Jamaica, a few things come to mind—beautiful beaches, reggae music, and high-grade marijuana. So to learn that Jamaica is running low on one of its most famous commodities is akin to hearing that the Middle East is running out of oil.
Reports out of the island confirm that the cannabis industry is taking a shellacking from a growing demand for the plant, coupled with slower cultivation. Heavy rains and a subsequent prolonged drought are being blamed for the decline in cultivation and experts are saying this is the worst case they have seen.
Triston Thompson, the chief opportunity explorer at cannabis consulting firm Tacaya Group, says more people on the island are now interested in “using cannabis for medicinal and therapeutic purposes.”
Jamaica decriminalized small amounts of marijuana in 2015. But the trading of the plant is still illegal on the island. In 2019, the Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA) promised to establish a transitional permit so small farmers could enter the cannabis industry. But this has not yet happened and Thompson says many farmers have given up farming the plant.
Thompson has called this shortage “a cultural embarrassment” but Scheril Murray Powell, a cannabis, agricultural, and dietary supplement attorney, has a slightly different perspective.
The attorney, who is also the chief marketing officer of Cannabiziac.com, told CNW that “The true cultural embarrassment is the delay of the inclusion of the small farmers and Rastafarian community that has lent Jamaica the cultural identity of being associated with high-quality cannabis.”
Murray Powell, who brings a holistic perspective to the business of cannabis, thinks, in addition to other natural factors such as seasonality and biodiversity, there are legal and governmental issues that play a role in the current shortage.
“Jamaica needs a robust system of expunction, and amnesty provisions need to be created to integrate expert ganja farmers—who have had detrimental seizures of product, unjust arrests, and wrongful incarcerations due to the worldwide war on drugs—into the cannabis industry. This should include education on the legal cannabis industry for those formerly incarcerated,” said Murray Powell.
The government, she believes, should provide legal support for farmers to help prevent predatory contracts and to “protect their intellectual property with regards to growing techniques and proprietary genetic material.” Her suggestion is pairing farmers with practicing attorneys or other legal teams.
Despite the current situation, attorney Murray Powell believes the government is taking a step in the right direction to remove the economic barriers for small farmers based on its plan to eliminate some of the costly requirements such as security. However, its plans to incorporate small farmers are taking too to be activated.
Jamaica, even before this shortage, was lagging way behind in the cannabis industry, and many experts believe with both its reputation and ability to produce high-quality marijuana, the country should have been further ahead by now. It might be a matter of how the island is approaching the industry.
“Historically, there has been a punitive approach to the industry that has its roots in the stigma from the period of prohibition,” said Murry Powell. “The vigor that was used to suppress and oppress industry participants need to be put towards growing the industry with the same strength.”
Attorney Murray Powell believes that “The small farmers and Rastafarian community should have been the foundation for the ganja forecasting model, especially (but not limited to) the local market. The growth strategy should not be created by each license holder in a silo. There needs to be a national industry forecasting model and incentives to drive the industry towards those growth objectives.”
While the CLA might be right about not having a shortage in the regulated industry, for many farmers, dispensers, and activists, it’s a different story.
“It’s a real supply and demand problem and it’s been going on for years, but now because of the pandemic, it just made everything worse because people aren’t farming as much and the demand is still the same,” said Oshane W, a resident of Portmore, Jamaica. He owns a small weed edibles business and has to source his raw materials from street vendors.
Oshane pointed out that dispensaries on the island that are licensed to sell the plant are now doing so at an average cost of USD $15 per gram (roughly JMD $2000). The annual license fee to run a dispensary in Jamaica is USD $2,500, and the license to transport the plant is USD $10,000, which most local farmers and small vendors cannot afford.
So can Jamaica recover from this decline and capitalize on its reputation for producing the highest-grade marijuana? Murray Powell certainly thinks so, but she believes the approach has to include the people responsible for the reputation in the first place, as well as incorporating the expertise of scientists and researchers.
“I think that Jamaica’s reputation for producing the highest-grade marijuana is owed to small farmers and the Rastafarian community. When they elevate those communities, they will be able to restore and maximize results from that reputation. The quality achievement is a forever moving target which is why we need to incorporate our world-class Jamaican Universities and researchers so that as laboratories get more sophisticated, we are preparing the next generation of experts with superior standards.”