Sunday, February 2, 2014

Jamaica... Get going with ganja!

Get going with ganja

Delano Seiveright, Guest Columnist:

I recently had the pleasure of speaking at the Jamaica Stock Exchange's 2014 Capital Markets Conference in Kingston on investment opportunities from legalising ganja.

The last several days and weeks have seen a literal cascade of positive developments on the issue, so much so that even United States President Barack Obama stated publicly that ganja is no more dangerous than alcohol, pointed to the unfair state of affairs at the criminal-justice level, and noted that the legalisation in Colorado and Washington was "important" because it represented the decriminalisation of a commonly used substance.

Following Mr Obama's comments, we have seen former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan; former president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos; and Republican Texas Governor Rick Perry at one of the world's most prestigious annual gatherings of leaders, the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, speak strongly about the need for marijuana law reform.

Closer to home, we have seen where yet another national poll in the United States, in the NBC/Wall Street Journal, finding that a majority of Americans support legalising ganja. Meanwhile, in Florida, medical ganja will be on the November ballot; US Attorney General Eric Holder has said that federal government will allow banks to accept deposits from state-legalised businesses; and the US's richest man, Microsoft's Bill Gates, stated that he voted to legalise ganja in Washington state and thinks implementation is going well so far.

Why the wait?

So what exactly are we waiting on? I believe that the conversation of ganja-law reform is nearing maturity in Jamaica.

A poll last year showed near 60 per cent support for relaxing the laws concerning ganja use, and if the Jamaica Stock Exchange is willing to go as far as to facilitate a session on the subject, we can all agree that a whole lot of progress has been made. Jamaica is very easily a brand name for ganja and we have a huge opportunity to let it work for us.

The investment opportunities from legalising ganja are huge, even outside of the stereotypical smoking of it.

Everyone by now should be aware of the development of Medicanja, Jamaica's first medical ganja company established by Jamaican scientist and entrepreneur, Dr Henry Lowe. Here, Dr Lowe, like several others, sees the incredible opportunities for research and product development using the medicinal compounds called the cannabinoids, the non-psychoactive compounds.

First developer of Canasol

We should never lose sight of the fact that Jamaica was one of the first countries in the world to develop a commercial product from ganja, Canasol, used to treat glaucoma. It would be a crying shame if we sat and allowed ourselves to lose out to an emerging multibillion-dollar industry in Europe and North America.

Incidentally, in 2001, the government-sanctioned, Barry Chevannes-led National Com-mission on Ganja had as one of its recommendations, "that, in order that Jamaica be not left behind, a Cannabis Research Agency be set up, in collaboration with other countries, to coordinate research into all aspects of cannabis, including its epidemiological and psychological effects, and, importantly, as well its pharmacological and economic potential, such as is being done by many other countries, not least including some of the most vigorous in its suppression." That's 13 years ago, and the report is probably gathering dust somewhere in the government bureaucracy.

Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I substance by the US federal government, meaning according to the government, it has no medical value. This makes it quite difficult for scientists to study any potential medical uses, since human medical trials require permission from federal agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services, the Food and Drug Administration, and, when it comes to illegal substances, the Drug Enforcement Adminis-tration.

As soon as it's a 'go'

Given these challenges in the US and throughout the globe, Jamaica, once our government says "go", can quickly position itself as a world leader in this multibillion-dollar growth industry, given our perfect geographical location just over an hour by plane from Miami, language advantage, and the many Jamaican scientists coming out of universities here and overseas.

Time is not on our side, given developments in the United States. We cannot afford to delay any longer.

Today, Israel, about an 11- hour non-stop flight from New York's JFK International, is the medical ganja research capital of the world.

There is a lot to go around and Jamaica just needs a little of the action to make a big impact here. We are talking mega bucks for a dynamic, high-skilled, high-paid health and research tourism industry with great multiplier effects.

Already, several major international companies are looking seriously at establishing laboratories in Uruguay, after that country legalised it just several weeks ago. Uruguay is about nine hours non-stop from Miami. It is really time for us to get cracking. This is a slam dunk.

In the very least, however, we must congratulate Science Minister Phillip Paulwell for his decisiveness so far in moving the science component forward quickly. He gets it and is coordinating with his own Scientific Research Council and major stakeholders in driving the process forward rapidly.

It is important to note that recent moves in the United States and elsewhere have created an industry where many players have never even touched the plant. In Colorado alone, the industry incorporates lawyers, architects, laboratory technicians, real estate developers, academia, accountants, doctors, nurses, tour operators, agronomists, security, clerical personnel and an amazing range of spin-offs. To put it into context, Colorado has more ganja dispensaries than Starbucks.

The overall ganja market in the United States, according to some authoritative sources, is estimated to value over US$100 billion, just several billion dollars short of the alcohol industry. We are unsure of our nation's market, but the impact of legalisation on the agriculture, tourism and financial sectors would be immense. Many farmers, potential farmers, hoteliers and a litany of other businesses stand to benefit from what would undoubtedly be an increase in the number of tourists visiting the island and feeling at ease in acquiring our Brand name product.

One company in Colorado is already booked 100 per cent for ganja tours right into the summer throughout the state. Here being the home of reggae, Bob Marley and high grade, there is doubt in our minds that quality ganja tours here will be so much of a hit that operators will struggle to keep up with the numbers. The opportunities are great.

Let's get going!

Delano Seiveright is a director of the Ganja Law Reform Coalition. Email feedback to columns@ and, or tweet him @delanoseiv.

February 02, 2014

Jamaica Gleaner