A GROUP of influential Jamaicans have launched an association of future marijuana cultivators as momentum builds toward loosening laws prohibiting the drug on the Caribbean island.
More than 300 people, including a few medical marijuana entrepreneurs from Canada and the US state of Colorado, gathered at a conference centre in Kingston to officially launch the Ganja Future Growers and Producers Association.
Among other things, the group will lobby for the creation of a regulated cannabis industry on the tropical island that is nearly as famous for marijuana as it is for its scenic beaches and unique culture.
The moderator of the event was Angela Brown-Burke, the major of Kingston and a senator and a vice-president of the ruling People’s National Party (PNP). Her husband, Paul Burke, is one of the leaders of the new association and also an influential PNP figure.
Various groups have spoken in support of the venture, including the country’s scientific research council, agricultural society and the Jamaican campus of the University of the West Indies.
“Jamaica has a prime opportunity to enter and revolutionise an industry that could have an enormous kickback on our growth and development potential,” said Rupert Lewis, a politics professor who spoke on behalf of the Mona campus of the university.
Marijuana has been pervasive but outlawed on the island for a century. But as the movement to legalise marijuana gains momentum in Jamaica and further afield – most notably in Uruguay and the US states of Colorado and Washington – there is a growing push to lift restrictions in Jamaica to give the island’s struggling economy a big boost.
Supporters of reform believe Jamaica could become a powerhouse in medical marijuana research, a renowned global exporter and the developer of new marijuana products.
Local scientists already have a history of creating innovative marijuana-derived medicines, including “Canasol,” which helps relieve pressure in the eyes of glaucoma patients. The drug is also used by people with chronic conditions such as multiple sclerosis.
Charles Nesson, a Harvard law professor, said Jamaica and marijuana are basically synonymous due to the homegrown spiritual movement of Rastafari and pot-steeped cultural expressions like reggae music. He said the global marijuana movement “needs the leadership of Jamaica”.
“But there is a huge danger. And the danger is that you will miss the boat, that you will talk too long,” warned Prof Nesson, who elicited loud cheers when he acknowledged being a marijuana smoker, unlike several Jamaican speakers who carefully stressed they did not smoke the locally banned herb.
The new Jamaican association is starting as some government officials have publicly taken up the idea of loosening restrictions, including health minister Fenton Ferguson who said late last year he was “fully on board” with medical marijuana.
But the government has provided little clarity on what it intends to do. Technology minister Phillip Paulwell, leader of government business in the House, has hinted that marijuana will be decriminalised this year, but nothing official has been announced.