Is Cannabis an exporting opportunity for Jamaica?

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A couple of years ago, the previous government of Jamaica passed a law decriminalizing carrying up to two ounces of marijuana for personal use.

The current government wants to go well beyond that, not necessarily to encourage its people to get stoned, but to develop, in the words of one official, “a major industrial enterprise in Jamaica.”

Audley Shaw, Jamaica’s minister of commerce, industry, agriculture, and fisheries (Image: Peter Buxbaum)

Ganja has suffered from a stigma, especially among those who would discourage the use of psychoactive substances, but, said Jamaica’s minister of commerce, industry, agriculture, and fisheries Audley Shaw, “it has more good qualities than bad.”

Shaw is not talking only about exporting cannabis for recreational use but to create an industry that will develop the pharmaceutical potentialities of the weed. Already, Shaw noted, a Jamaican entrepreneur is developing a cannabis-based drug for the treatment of leukemia, and, in a major development, the United States Food and Drug Administration has licensed the use of medical marijuana in that research and development effort.

The minister is not discounting the possibility of exporting recreational marijuana as well, as more and more countries legalize the substance. In the United States, 30 states and the District of Columbia of legalized cannabis for recreational or medical purposes and Shaw believes it is a trend that will eventually sweep the nation. At the federal level, possession of marijuana is still a crime and is still being prosecuted under leadership of the anti-marijuana Attorney General Jeff Sessions. But even president Donald Trump has mentioned that federal strictures ought to be eased for the possession and use of marijuana for medical purposes. In any event, the federal law will have to be changed before Jamaica will be able to export marijuana to the United States.

In Canada, marijuana use was recently legalized nationwide and Shaw views that country as a large potential market for the Jamaican product. Whether it is for medical or recreational use, Shaw’s vision for developing a marijuana industry involves, not merely exporting the plants, but adding value before exporting in order to create jobs for Jamaicans.

Shaw noted that Jamaican cannabis oil has attained higher levels of purity than that available in California, for example, where marijuana is legal, and that Jamaica’s “greatest natural asset besides its people is its land.” “We have a tradition of producing fine agricultural products, such as coffee and peppers,” he added. “The finest cannabis is to be found in Jamaica.”

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