The ganja export industry could crumble


Sunday, September 02, 2018

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Cannabis, marijuana, herb and ganja are names given to the same plant in different places. By whatever name, the plant lives a dichotomous life in determining whether it is a nemesis or a blessing. The dichotomy is repeated in many countries with low to high acceptance, depending on the context. Within this framework, the Jamaican experience is relevant.

Ganja was brought to Jamaica by indentured East Indian labourers recruited for work on the sugar cane estates after the emancipation of slavery in 1838, when the freed slaves abandoned the estates. The herb was favoured because, at different times, it was found to boost pleasure or energy.

However, over the centuries a remarkable turnaround from illegality and non-acceptance earned much favour for ganja; based on newly found results in using the herb for medical purposes. This revelation of medical value has been growing in acceptance since being widely publicised by television documentaries, printed materials, or news. This is quite miraculous for a country like Jamaica, which has shown much rejection in the past and numerous criminal convictions over the years for the use of ganja.

But new medical use through traditional folk medicine and the achievements of medical research have produced growing positive results.

Notwithstanding this research, ganja, or whatever it is otherwise called, is still unpopular or illegal in a good many countries.

Indeed, a survey cited by Dr Henry Lowe in Ganja the Phoenix Herb shows 82 of 86 countries in which ganja is still illegal. Nonetheless, this poll shows enough countries with almost even results so that the negative position is indeed showing a fast-growing popularity for medical use.

This raises the question of the exports from countries which produce surplus amounts of the plant, such as Jamaica — which is in the process of endeavouring to market medical ganja at home and abroad. A problem, however, has emerged in dealing with medical exports.

There is certainty and uncertainty about exporting ganja and it is essential that this is known to prospective exporters. For instance, some countries do not buy the oil processed from ganja. The imports in these countries are the tops of the stalks, which have the medical value iin the buds. This contains the important elements extracted for medical purposes if they exist, because there are some 600 varieties of ganja and only some have medical value.

Medical ganja does not contain any narcotic elements which can create harmful conditions for users. But the insistence of the importing authorities rightly require that the product must be free of all 60 different contaminants. To avoid these contaminants, the plant must be grown in greenhouses in very sanitary conditions.

The rigours do not stop there. Plant labs must be provided to carry out the testing which can verify if the plant is good for medical use, and, if so, for which ailments. The plant, when grown, is then cut and sent to a central location, connected to the grower, where it is tested for genetic variety and absence of contaminants. If these two requirements are met by testing, the plant stalks are trimmed for export. If either of the tests do not comply with the requirements, the supply is rejected and loses its legal status.

There are further problems which arise at this point. Any route which attempts certification for exports without genetic testing of the product will fail. The obligation will fall on Government to carry out certification testing through the Ministry of Health, or expensive licensed labs where clearance for exports could be provided if the ministry or expensive private labs are equipped to do so. Undoubtedly, such sources would have to be licensed. This is where the industry proceeds or halts, because inspectors will have to be required to determine suitability for medical treatment, and that depends on special equipment without which there can be no compliance with the law.

If this infrastructure is not in place the ganja industry, and especially participation by small growers, needs further thinking, or the entire process may not be able to meet compliance and will collapse from default.

It is time to stop and think through this whole process again.

— Edward Seaga is a former prime minister of Jamaica and is currently a distinguished fellow at The University of the West Indies and chancellor at the University of Technology, Jamaica

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