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Expert says new laws stifling legal ganja industry

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GANJA growers and producers say regulations to the updated Dangerous Drugs Act (2015) are too stringent and pose a major impediment to those who represent the backbone of the industry, and, by extension, its development.

Vice-president of the Ganja Growers and Producers Association of Jamaica (GGPAJ) Maurice Ellis, who is also an executive member of the Jamaica Licensed Cannabis Association (JLCA), argues that the GGPAJ has been pushing for changes to some of the barriers to entering the industry, as presented by the regulations.

“We have been saying, let us look at moving forward to removing some of these barriers to entry; for example, let’s set up a registry (of growers) more than have this extensive, stringent process. The man who has been ostracised for it (growing ganja) is the same man that is trying to get the licence and he can’t get the licence because he has been locked up,” Ellis told this week’s Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange, that hosted several key players in the fledgling industry.

Ellis pointed out that with unless the number of licensed producers are increased significantly, Jamaica cannot compete in the legal marijuana industry on a global scale. “As a processor if we are not doing 100,000 pounds per year, we are not in the industry [as] we can’t compete globally. With the few licensed producers, and what they are going through with challenges from the CLA (Cannabis Licencing Authority), we are not going to be able to meet the demand and we will be caught flat-footed,” he stated.

While agreeing with the concern, Joan Webley, president of medical cannabis company Itopia Life Limited, and a member of the JLCA executive, noted that the association has a positive relationship with the regulator. She said the CLA has taken some steps to include the foundation players in the industry, such as the Maroon community, indigenous farmers, and agricultural students.

“We are fully in this together, and we have been having meetings with them (CLA) since the beginning of this year. We have not yet had significant changes to the regulations as a result of these meetings as yet, but we do feel like we have made a really meaningful input, and (had) opportunity to look at the hemp policy and the import-export policy.”

Speaking on behalf of the growers’ association, Ellis said the small farmers are at a vast disadvantage as a result of the extensive nature of the rules laid down in law. “When it comes on to the small farmer he’s not being left behind; he’s actually being left out, based on how the regulations are structured. If you look at the fees, as they are, you have to have a retainer of US$2,000 and you have to find another US$10,000 to pay for a licence, and another US$1,000 for administrative (services); if you look at the traditional farmer it is the same guy that is shirtless, barefooted, with cutlass and scissors [in hand}. They have never been the ones to make money out of the ganja industry; it’s either the smugglers or the guys who get it at the end, wherever it goes,” he asserted.

He said growers are put at great expense to meet requirements such as surveillance systems, fencing, and other provisions set out in the regulations.

Ellis explained that the Alternative Development Programme (ADP) — being run as a pilot in Orange Hill, Westmoreland, and Accompong, St Elizabeth — is designed to reduce barriers to entry, but stressed that it is not enough as growers are already starting the race at a deficit. The ADP is intended to enable small ganja farmers to benefit from the ganja industry and prevent illicit cultivation, and allow ganja farmers to provide raw material for processors, he said.

Ellis said that because this is a State-run programme, it is not administered by the regulator. “So the Government would say it has a programme in place to facilitate the industry. But he said when one takes a closer look it’s not adequate; it needs some more build-out and development. If the Government is truly serious about this, then the local experts on the ground need to really be consulted in a holistic way so that we can roll out a programme that is more far-reaching. To have two pilot projects [across] 14 parishes [when] you have ganja being grown in all 14 parishes,” he stated.

Katie Lennon, a long-time cannabis advocate and entrepreneur with cannabis business interests in Jamaica and South Africa, does not believe the Government understands the industry. She said the effort to get the industry off the ground would be better served if local knowledge and expertise is utilised.

“They don’t know the industry, they don’t believe in the Jamaicans who know the industry. It’s a new industry, compared to other agricultural plants wherever you go in the world right now and they’re not using their expertise in Jamaica to guide them. I think the Government would reach further in this industry, on an international basis, if they had used up more of their home-grown expertise to guide the industry,” she stated, pointing out that the leadership of the CLA when it was initially established was “perfect”.

Among the extensive provisions in the interim regulations (2016) to the Dangerous Drugs Act (2015) are that all persons employed to the applicant for a licence are required to provide a police report; a photograph certified by a justice of the peace; proof that satisfactory arrangements are in place for off-site security surveillance of the proposed cultivation site; that the site should not be situated within 600 metres of a school; and the implementation of a system to track all ganja cultivated on the proposed site.

The regulations also set out specific acreage and fencing requirements for cultivators, parking arrangements, facilities for the various cultivation processes such as plant nursery and drying area. Licensed growers are also bound to notify the authority, at least two weeks ahead of harvesting, and cannot carry out those activities unless a representative of the CLA is present.

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Audio-visual tech-fitted buses to secure testimonies from witnesses

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THE Ministry of Justice will be providing two buses, equipped with audio-visual technology, to assist in securing testimonies from witnesses in trial matters.

This was disclosed by portfolio Minister Delroy Chuck who said the vehicles, which will be rolled out soon, will be used to travel to remote areas where witnesses may be located.

These, he said, are among the initiatives underpinning the ministry’s commitment to safeguarding witnesses against intimidation, and advancing their role in the justice process.

The minister’s speech was delivered by executive director of the Legal Aid Council Hugh Faulkner, during the opening of the two-day Witness Care Conference at the Faculty of Law, The University of the West Indies, Mona, St Andrew, last Friday.

Chuck said other initiatives include equipping 78 courtrooms with digital audio facilities and 19 with audio-visual recording apparatus, noting that “with this technology, witness intimidation will be significantly reduced”.

Additionally, the minister said legislation has been passed to allow witnesses in human trafficking cases being tried in the Circuit Court, to testify before presiding judges without a jury.

“Our goal, mission, and purpose at the Ministry of Justice is to create a first-class justice system that delivers timely justice to all, irrespective of their socio-economic circumstances,” Chuck emphasised.

It is against this background that the ministry is a significant partner in the conference, “because we know that a first-class justice system cannot exist without the proper care and protection of witnesses”.

He expressed the hope that the forum would facilitate stakeholder dialogue on a public awareness campaign, to educate the general populace that locating and procuring witnesses is a “shared responsibility”.

“Discussions will range from creating an enabling environment for witness safety and security to psychosocial interventions and services for witnesses. There will also be a focus on vulnerable witnesses, as well as discussions on designing multi-care systems that involve different agencies,” the minister said.

These engagements, Chuck pointed out, are intended to provide a “wealth of information” that should be used as “critical investments” to yield “tangible results” for the care of witnesses.

This, he added, is imperative in spurring civic-minded Jamaicans into action, and sending a message to the criminal underworld that “witnesses will not cower in fear, but will be motivated to stand and be counted, and play their part in creating a society that is secure, cohesive and just”.

Meanwhile, Canada’s High Commissioner to Jamaica Laurie Peters, who also spoke, underscored the relationship between the countries in engagements tailored to advance the local justice sector.

“We (Canada) have been a long-standing and steadfast partner with Jamaica, in terms of putting forth, supporting, partnering on a series of reform-focused…reform-centric programmes, all designed to advance a comprehensive and systematic approach to justice modernisation,” Peters said.

In this regard, she said the Canadian Government is honoured to be a partner in the conference’s staging.

The inaugural event is a key activity under the Justice Undertakings for Social Transformation (JUST) project.

The project is a $19.8-million Global Affairs Canada-funded initiative, being implemented by the Justice Ministry and United Nations Development Programme.

It is supporting justice sector reforms through technical-legal assistance; institutional strengthening; and social order.

Peters said the conference forms part of the JUST programme’s social order component, which seeks to facilitate equitable access to justice services for all individuals, particularly the most vulnerable.

“It is commendable that Jamaica has understood and embraced the importance of focusing on witnesses at this time,” she added.

The conference, which ended on Saturday , was intended to discuss and advance solutions for the protection and support of witnesses in the Jamaican judicial system.

Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at http://bit.ly/epaperlive

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Waite gets ringing endorsements in St Elizabeth NE

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BRAES RIVER, St Elizabeth — Thoughts of the People’s National Party’s (PNP’s) internal presidential campaign were never far away.

However, Comrades focused on Basil Waite at yesterday’s formal launch of his bid here to become the next Member of Parliament for St Elizabeth North Eastern whenever general elections are called.

The seat is currently held by the PNP’s Evon Redman, who has long indicated he will not be seeking re-election after completing his single term.

“This is about PNP unity; we not thinking about internal campaign right now,” claimed Councillor Everton Fisher (PNP, Balaclava Division).

There were discordant notes though, that were completely unrelated to the challenge to party President Dr Peter Phillips by former Cabinet Minister Peter Bunting.

A message from Redman, absent due to family commitments, was met with derisive shouts of “No” from the large crowd.

Redman, in his message read by Region Five Chairman Hopeton McCatty, said the “transition” of the constituency leadership had not always been smooth, but he and Waite were “working at it”.

Waite got ringing endorsements, including from his brother, Councillor Mugabe Kilimanjaro (Ipswich Division, St Elizabeth north-estern), who jarringly insisted that his brother had been “sabotaged” for years by elements in the PNP.

By press time the meeting had briefly taken on the look of a stage show as Comrades awaited the arrival of Dr Phillips, who was scheduled to deliver the main presentation.

St Elizabeth North Eastern is traditionally among the rural strongholds of the PNP.

Waite is set to be challenged by businessman Delroy Slowley, representing the JLP, whenever parliamentary elections are called.

— Garfield Myers

Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at http://bit.ly/epaperlive

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PM tours Corporate Area projects

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PM tours Corporate Area projects

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Prime Minister Andrew Holness (left) hugs Traffic Warden Tonya Morris during yesterday’s tour of the roadwork in Manor Park, St Andrew, while wishing her birthday greetings.

 

Prime Minister Andrew Holness (left) examines one of the new pipelines which will replace the old ones in Manor Park, St Andrew, while touring the ongoing road projects in the Corporate Area yesterday with other stakeholders. Looking on is E G Hunter, managing director of National Works Agency. (Photos: Joseph Wellington)


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