Cannabis agency defends its stewardship on ganja

THE Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA) is insisting as false, a recent report by Forbes magazine that Canadian marijuana companies have pulled out of Jamaica because of a lack of positive action on the part of the Government and the CLA.

According to the influential Forbes, in a story of May 30, 2020, the cannabis stakeholders exited Jamaica because of the obstacles in the granting of licences for the production and export of the highly rated ganja from the island.

The Forbes report, entitled Aphria, Aurora And Other Big Ag Cannabis Companies Pull Out Of Jamaica, claimed that Canadian- licensed producers of cannabis were leaving the island “in droves”, due in part to stalled governmental decisions on export licenses.

Of the two companies named in the headline, Forbes said that Aphria was “halting all further investments in Latin America and the Caribbean”.

Approximately 200 former Aphria employees were laid off in an effort by the company to downsize and restructure, the Forbes story said, adding that a representative of Aphria denied the layoffs and leaving the territories.

According to Forbes, another Canadian cannabis producer, The Green Organic Dutchman, a Mississauga, Ontario-based company, is no longer pursuing opportunities in Jamaica “so it can focus on its struggling Canadian operations”.

And Aurora, a Canadianlisted cannabis company, has sold its Jamaica asset for less than its CDN$4.5-million valuation in order to gain capital.

“The company accepted an offer to sell its Jamaica property for gross proceeds of CDN$3.4 million,” Aurora said in a market filing. Aurora’s languishing property in Jamaica would have formed the headquarters for its local operations, the Forbes story said.

The advent of the novel coronavirus pandemic resulting in a precipitous decline in tourism also affected the ganja industry, the Forbes report said, leaving companies “including Aphria with a glut of rotting marijuana inventory intended for the rapidly diminished retail market”.

But the CLA last week defended its stewardship of the Jamaican ganja industry, saying that since November 2018 licence holders have had the opportunity to export ganja inflorescence/buds and extracts from Jamaica to jurisdictions across the world, notwithstanding the absence of import/export regulations.

“We have sent [ganja] to Australia and to Cayman; we have a medicinal regime,” CLA Chief Executive Officer Lincoln Allen said in outlining some countries that have imported the Jamaican product.

This has been facilitated by the CLA through the establishment of Interim Measures for the Import/Export of Cannabis, which are published on the authority’s official website, the CLA said.

Sixty-three ganja production/export licences have been issued to date, the CLA added last week in its response to the Forbes story.

In respect to the pull-out of Canadian companies from Jamaica, the CLA said that it could not comment on the internal operations of ganja stakeholders.

“While the authority cannot speak to, nor does it have control over the internal business decisions of a licensee, licence holders are not hindered in their ability to export product from Jamaica due to the non-passage of import/export legislation,” Allen said in a response to the claims in the Forbes report.

The CLA was established in 2015 under the Dangerous Drug Amendment Act with a specific role to establish and regulate Jamaica’s ganja and hemp industry.

Ganja regulations were relaxed then and possession of two ounces or less of ganja was no longer an offence for which one could be arrested and charged.

The police may nonetheless issue a ticket to a person in possession of two ounces or less of ganja, similar to a traffic ticket.

It remains a criminal offence to be in possession of over two ounces of ganja as offenders can be arrested and charged and, if found guilty, sentenced to a fine or to imprisonment or both.

The CLA has as its mandate to manage the fledgling industry and coordinate the activities of licensed stakeholders for medical, therapeutic, scientific, religious and recreational purposes.

However, the operation of the CLA has come under pressure with the perceived paucity of information and inactivity.

Calls have repeatedly come from civil society for greater transparency and action from the governing body. In addition, small operators and traditional ganja growers have bemoaned what they say are onerous requirements to obtain a licence.

A group calling itself the Ganja Growers & Producers Association (GGPAJ), in recent correspondence, urged the Government and Parliament to open up the local ganja industry to help rescue the Jamaican economy.

“The GGPAJ is of the view that literally thousands of Jamaicans can be employed over the next year in the first instance in a ganja industry that allows a regulated, recreational industry and that millions of dollars in foreign exchange can be realised in cannabis exports,” the group said in a letter over the signatures of former People’s National Party General Secretary Paul Burke and political commentator Richard Crawford.

“The association is advocating that critical to this opening up is the legalisation of the industry to facilitate small and traditional farmers for a two-year period, and relaxing and reducing the draconian- type regulations and related bureaucracy which is stifling the licensed industry.

The GGPAJ has repeatedly stated that whereas the amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act 2015 was a people-centric and progressive legislation at the time in April 2015, givingmany benefits to Jamaicans, it is now a prohibitive and anti-people legislation,” the GGPAJ said. But through the uncertainties and accusations at least one ganja producer has come to the defence of the CLA and its operations.

Alexandra Chong, principal of Jacana, a boutique Jamaican ganja outfit, argued that the Forbes magazine story “mischaracterises the real reasons some Canadian companies retreated from their international ambitions”.

“That Aurora made a swift change in its strategic plan is not a surprise.

Starting in 2017, many of the large Canadian cannabis companies embarked on a policy of global land acquisition, buying up as many assets as they could across the world as a way to secure their international growth plans,” Chong said.

“It is unfair to paint a picture of a ‘failing Jamaican cannabis industry’ as the reason why the Canadian companies, who were once bullish on global growth at all costs, later found themselves having to be more prudent with their capital and focus.

This is a reflection on the performance and strategies of the Canadian companies, not a reflection on the Jamaican cannabis industry, its regulators, or its companies, as the article incorrectly states,” Chong asserted.

“In fact, Jamaica is one of a tiny handful of nations where you can grow, process, sell branded products via retail channels, and legally export medical cannabis. The Jamaican cannabis industry is, without a doubt, setting the standard for what is achievable,” said Chong.

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