The baby is eagerly awaited in the green gold business: within a few months, Jamaica will have a regulatory framework for the import and export of medical cannabis. Only 9 other countries in the world have such a regime. Barely five years after legalization, this new legislation should propel the Caribbean island among the leaders of the legal therapeutic cannabis industry, as markets open up in America and Europe.

The affair had caused quite a stir: after more than a century of prohibition on Jamaican soil, marijuana was coming out of the closet in 2015. Under a licensing system (see below), the law now allows not only the use, but also the cultivation, transportation, processing and sale of cannabis or its derivatives, as long as they are therapeutic, scientific or spiritual – the Rastafarian movement advocating the ritual use of « ganja » as a means of uplifting the soul. Therapeutic consumption, whether for residents or tourists, is subject to a medical prescription. Recreational consumption, to date, remains illegal.

This small revolution has had an immediate impact on the business community, with a veritable explosion of investment in the pharmaceutical and agricultural sectors.
For its part, the government saw great potential for growth and job creation, as well as a significant tax windfall, with the avowed objective of developing medical tourism.

Green gold rush: opportunity or speculative bubble?

The global market for legal cannabis is already worth billions. Estimates of growth have been so wildly optimistic that some fear a speculative bubble may burst around the industrialization of green gold. Studies estimate annual growth for the coming years to be between 24 and 30 per cent. From US$12 billion in 2019, the market could rise to US$130 billion by 2029, according to the most optimistic. Other, more cautious experts estimate it at around US$50 billion if the legal landscape remains unchanged between now and then – which seems unlikely given the current progression of legislation.

The evolution of medical and pharmaceutical research is not unrelated to this: more and more countries are moving towards decriminalizing therapeutic, and even recreational cannabis. Canada has been a forerunner in this field, with the legalization of medical cannabis since 2001 and then recreational cannabis in 2018, becoming the first G7 country to adopt full legalization. Canadian producers have thus established themselves as leaders in the industry. They are known as Canopy Growth, Tilray, Aurora, Aphria…

Followed soon by the Netherlands and then Israel, the Canadian model continues to inspire, provoking a snowball effect in Europe and then in the United States. 21 European states have legalized therapeutic use, as well as more than 30 North American states (11 of which also authorize recreational use), even if the federal government is slow to take a stand. Mexico, Malaysia, India and even China are following suit… The phenomenon is growing steadily, even spreading to the African continent. Moreover, the WHO’s opinion (see box opposite) should help to remove a number of reticences on the part of governments, consumers and even the banking sector, which is still reluctant to grant financing. All the more so as lobbies are gaining ground…

In other words, the few legislative and political uncertainties are hardly enough to darken the horizon: even taking into account a relative run-up in forecasts, the market outlook remains rosy to say the least.

57 licenses granted in 2 years

Created in the wake of the Dangerous Drugs Act (DDA), Jamaica’s CLA (Licensing Authority Cannabis) has been responsible since 2015 for establishing the regulatory framework for the ganja industry. As an agency of the Ministry of Industry, Trade, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, it also issues the necessary licences and authorizations. In two years, 57 licences have been granted, 259 are in the process of approval and 425 jobs have been created. Responding to the concerns of farmers and other small players, the CLA has also announced an imminent reduction in the costs and requirements for granting these licences.

Currently, five types of licences (which can be cumulated) can be granted, exclusively for medical, scientific and therapeutic purposes: Cultivation; Transport; Processing; Retail; and Research and Development. The applicant company must be registered with the Enterprise Bureau and more than 50% of the company must be owned by a Jamaican resident (for at least 3 years).

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Focus on Europe for exports

The news just came from Industry, Trade and Agriculture Minister Floyd Green: Within a few months, Jamaica will be among the only 10 countries in the world with a legal regime for importing and exporting cannabis. Until now, exports have been subject to interim administrative procedures issued by the Ministry of Health, for licensees who also hold a valid import permit from the country of destination. The CLA will now become the competent licensing authority.

In the process of being finalized, the project “will be brought before Parliament as soon as possible this year”, Minister Green said in a news release. On the CLA side, the ambition is clear: it is to confirm Jamaica’s place as a leader in the legal cannabis industry on the international scene. Both domestic and foreign investments are already welcome!

More than 100 cannabinoids under the microscope of researchers

The therapeutic virtues of cannabinoids have stimulated a great deal of research in the health field in recent years, with considerable public and private investment. Some pharmaceuticals are already on the market, while others are still at the study or clinical trial stage.

In particular, cannabis has shown its interest in the treatment of pathologies such as multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, chronic pain, glaucoma, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases… and even cancer!

Medical cannabis is gradually gaining international recognition. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared itself in favour of removing marijuana from the category of dangerous substances of no therapeutic interest, which should speed up the evolution of legislation.

Jamaica now has its sights set on Western Europe
with its tens of millions of
consumers with high purchasing power

Belgian pharmacies open their counters

As early as 2001, Belgium was a pioneer with a law authorising cannabis-based medicines in clinical trials. Despite the legislative vagueness that has prevailed since then, the country is now taking a resolutely favourable path towards therapeutic cannabis.

Since last August, a circular issued by the Federal Agency for Medicines and Health Products (FAMHP) has authorised the sale of medicines and preparations based on cannabidiol in pharmacies on medical prescription. Sativex® is already marketed for the treatment of multiple sclerosis.

Health Minister Maggie De Block is even considering legalizing the cultivation of cannabis for medical and research purposes on Belgian territory, following the Danish example.