Not necessary, Minister Shaw

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KNOCKALVA, Hanover — At least one local cannabis company is disagreeing with Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Audley Shaw’s decision to explore the production of medicinal marijuana low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and high in cannabidiol (CBD) that conforms to the laws of the United States of America, as a means of overcoming the contentious hurdle of de-risking.

Triston Thompson, chief explorer at Tacaya — a cannabis consulting, cultivation, retail and export company based in St James — told the Jamaica Observer at Knockalva Polytechnic College’s inaugural cannabis colloquium that while he doesn’t have a solution to de-risking, there is no reason to limit the production of the plant high in THC, for which Jamaica is known.

“That’s advocating a particular business model, maybe for a different player or so in the market. However, as it relates to building an industry, you need THC and CBD. It is not half a plant, you need a whole plant,” Thompson stated.

De-risking refers to financial institutions closing the accounts of clients perceived as high risk for money laundering or terrorist financing abuse, namely money service businesses, non-profit organisations, correspondent banks, and foreign embassies.

Shaw told reporters in St James last week, shortly before his departure for the British Virgin Islands to participate in a two-day conference put on by businessman Sir Richard Branson, that he would be perusing the de-risking issue and other matters relating to the marijuana industry at the conference.

“Let’s start making medicinal marijuana that is low in THC and high in CBD which has the medicinal value and conforms to the law in the United States that will open up our banking arrangements. So, for me that is a live one, and I will be perusing it among other things when I go to this conference,” Shaw said then.

Thompson, though, argued that in terms of the risk, as it relates to financial and other matters, “currently we don’t have a solution for banking, but that should not be any reason for us not to allow the cultivation of high THC products”.

Added Thompson: “There are countries that want it, and we shouldn’t starve them from it. We understand the risk as it relates to corresponding banking, but there are companies that are exporting currently. The Canadians export to Germany; they export to other countries. Israel just decided that they are going to start exporting too.”

He said that Jamaica has a lot of high THC strains and that is what the country is known for predominantly. “That is a subset of what makes up Brand Jamaica, high THC plants, having good experiences with Jamaican ganja,” Thompson said.

Shaw had argued that products such as those manufactured by Jamaican scientist Dr Henry Lowe, who produces marijuana-based anti-cancer drugs, could very well fall within that range.

The minister had told the media that shortly after Dr Lowe received approval for cannabis-based drugs to treat a particular strain of leukaemia, his account was closed by the bank, which cited falling afoul of corresponding relationship with the Government of the United States as the reason for doing so.

“[But] there is some light at the end of the tunnel. I see where a new law has been passed in the United States that approves a type of hemp, which is a kind of cannabis high in CBD and low in the THC (toxic) level. That may very well become a point of departure for us [and] to start there. In other words, Dr Lowe’s product could very well be within that range where the bill has been passed in the United States,” Shaw said.

“And if it is within that range, then we have to go right now to apply to regularise the banking relationships and other areas of the medicinal marijuana industry which we are targeting will be low in THC, as low as point zero three per cent THC, which is what the law allows in the United States. So we can start there,” added an optimistic Shaw.

However, Thompson argued that the issue is that America, which is producing plants high in THC, does not want the competition of similar characteristic plants entering their country.

“Different persons have different business models and you don’t want to shatter anybody’s business model. If we are talking about economic development and growth, everything should be an option. Every legacy option should be considered [in] cultivating cannabis,” Thompson argued.

“I want to point out also, in the US, what the US doesn’t want is product coming into their market (from overseas). In Colorado where I have been, in Vegas where I have been, and in Oregon where I have been, they have high THC plants. They are producing high THC plants. So there is absolutely no reason to restrict us to producing only CBD,” he insisted.

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