Pubdate: Wed, 01 Jun 2016
Source: Jamaica Gleaner, The (Jamaica)
Copyright: 2016 The Gleaner Company Limited
Author: Patria-Kaye Aarons
Note: Patria-Kaye Aarons is a television presenter and confectioner.


I REMEMBER in 2011 when Ras Astor Black built his political campaign 
around the development of a marijuana industry. His exact words to me 
in an interview ring clear:

"Every country around us have what we have: sun sea and sand. In 
fact, walk past a lot of our hotels and you smell the same fried 
chicken dem frying in Miami. What we have that they don't is good 
ganja. And we need to develop a tourism product around it."

When the locked aspirant brought it to the political ring, he was the 
laughing stock of the entire north coast. He now has the last laugh.

Not only has the use of the plant been decriminalised, but none other 
than the minister of finance himself, Audley Shaw, brought it to the 
house, in his first Budget presentation, as the green golden child.

"[Jamaica] must move with a sense of urgency and turn ganja, which 
has been a negative for Jamaica, into a major asset - creating wealth 
for our country.

"This is about an opportunity for small farmers who will now earn 
from land which is presently sitting idle." Shaw suggested that he 
would take the lead in his own constituency of Manchester North East 
and help the farmers there legitimately participate in the industry.


Fellow columnist Yvonne McCalla Sobers put forward interesting 
arguments in her column dated Sunday, May 29, 2016. Among other 
things, she raised the point that "overregulating the ganja industry 
has the same effect as prohibition. It benefits Big Business (local 
and foreign), which can navigate the red tape and knock away barriers 
to entry".

And there sure are a lot of barriers. Answers to the "who will 
benefit" question, as at today, are leaning more and more in favour 
of the affluent.

According to the proposal, those desirous of legally participating in 
the developing marijuana industry must apply for separate licences 
for growing, processing, transport, selling and research. Each will 
come at a cost as high as US$10,000. Each licence comes with 
requisite stipulations that already differ widely from what currently 
obtains in Jamaica, making adaptation difficult.

Even the very idle lands proposed for cultivation by the Government 
will be a challenge as the legislation requires that the land to be 
cultivated have direct access to roads and be fenced  neither of 
which is the case for most idle Crown lands.

Those farmers who currently grow weed will have to procure at least 
two of the five licences because what's the use in growing it if you 
aren't going to sell it? There's no money in weed being flowers in your garden.

If the intention is to truly allow the small farmer to participate 
and generate wealth, what's on the table will need revision in short order.

We're putting in many rules, regulations, emphases and costs on the 
supply side (cultivation, transportation, selling, etc). We've also 
placed a lot of hope in the potential income a robust industry can 
generate. Are we to assume that equal energy will be placed on 
encouraging consumption? After we create supply, who will smoke it?

The major assumption, if Ras Astor and others are correct, is that it 
will be tourists  any of the near 3.5 million people who visit our shores.


There's a disconnect. You're building an industry around a substance 
that if smoked, the user can still be issued a ticket for. I can see 
the posters now: "Come to Jamaica and smoke  so that you can fund our 
marijuana industry and increase our tax revenue." It just isn't 
coming together. And what of the ban on public smoking? The proposal 
is for the smoking legislation to be relaxed in specialised marijuana 
shops and coffee houses, but you can't smoke tobacco cigarettes in 
them. I can't see how that's going to be enforced.

On website, you can literally find more than 420 'weed 
jobs'  professions that have developed and businesses that are hiring 
as a result of the legalisation or decriminalisation of marijuana in 
both the United States and Holland. There's no denying the possibilities.

I'm by no means knocking the development. But we aren't quite ready 
for "Come to Jamaica and feel all right". Let's iron out the kinks 
and ensure that the existing marijuana growers feel all right - even 
before the tourists.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom