When people think about Jamaica, marijuana is one of the first things that comes to mind, and for good reason. The Caribbean island nation is home to the legendary Bob Marley, the ambassador of stoner culture, good vibes, and good weed, and the country’s Rastafarian population uses cannabis as a sacramental tool. Still, the Jamaican government has been hesitant to internationally embrace the longstanding cultural phenomenon between its people and ganja for quite some time.
Currently, everyday Jamaican locals are allowed to possess up to two ounces of cannabis, while those practicing Rastafarianism have much more lenient laws. That leaves the medicinal system, which is really just for the throngs of tourists. The fear of international scrutiny has caused the government to set up a medicinal system, as it didn’t want to give the impression that it’s promoting recreational use of a substance that many countries still consider to be a dangerous drug.
But as cannabis becomes socially acceptable in more of the United States and throughout the world, this fear has subsided. Jamaica’s recently developed legal cannabis regulations are finally starting to take advantage of their internationally recognized cannabis culture, as well as the medical research that has come about as a result of that culture.
One man poised to take this new regulatory system by storm is Courtney Betty, CEO of the Timeless Herbal Care, a Canadian medical cannabis company that has positioned itself in Jamaica for the advantages in research and development. Betty is the former Crown Attorney for the Department of Justice in Canada, and worked closely with the Jamaican government 15 years ago to deregulate its telecommunications services. His longstanding relationship with the country has given him insight into what these regulations will do for Jamaica on a local and international level.
“The biggest challenge for Jamaica has been fear of reaction of their international partners. This has crippled Jamaica’s movement so far,” Betty says. “So this [new legal framework] is really breaking away from those chains, and in my view, the international community is not going to come in and create any negativity for it. But that has been the biggest fear, that going down this path would, for example, impact on international aid for the country.”
The Jamaican government passed these new regulations earlier this year, but setting up this new system and processing applications for licensing has delayed the inevitable. But that hasn’t stopped the cannabis industry from setting up home base in Jamaica. Events like CanEx, one of the largest cannabis conferences in the world, have helped bring this much-needed international attention from the global cannabis industry. The organizer of the conference, Douglas Gordon, has faith that the Jamaican government will do what’s right for its struggling local economy.
“Once Jamaica fully appreciates the scope of this industry and its potential impact to the nation, I am fully convinced the government, business leadership, and the wider community will fully support a more aggressive expansion in the industry,” Gordon says. “Jamaica has been the poster child and represents the ‘cool’ in the market. To forego economic participation would be a travesty of the highest order.”
The new regulatory system will bring immense benefits to both locals and international cannabis companies. Jamaica’s struggling economy stands to benefit greatly from the international companies getting involved with the country’s cannabis. “If done correctly, legalization will have a significant financial benefit to the Jamaican economy,” Gordon says. “The benefits will come from jobs, new businesses, research and development, tax revenues, and GDP growth.”
Timeless Herbal Care was among the first to apply for a license in Jamaica, and the company plans to reinvigorate the island’s historic cannabis culture and faltering economy. Cannabis companies from both the United States and Canada plan to bring high-end retail experience developed in their regions to the island.
“A big part of it is the local industry,” Betty explains. “We’ve partnered with O.penVAPE, out of Colorado, to bring all of that experience and all of those products to Jamaica, and also to connect with customers. In Jamaica, we want them to have the same experience and the same products as you would in Colorado, except now it’s utilizing local Jamaican marijuana.”
Not only will these newfound cannabis regulations improve the local economy by creating jobs and improving agriculture, they will also enhance the cannabis industry as a whole. The Jamaican government made sure that its new regulatory system is welcoming to international companies, and will allow for more research and development from both a production and medicinal standpoint. On top of that, Jamaica’s legal framework will allow companies to branch out into the budding, but still heavily-restricted global market.
“The legal framework that Jamaica has in place is strategically positioned for companies that want to reach international markets to use Jamaica for that research and development and even from a production standpoint,” Betty says. “Whether you want to go to the European market, the Caribbean, Latin American, wherever, Jamaica has that ability for companies. It’s especially beneficial for companies in the United States that are not allowed to even go across state borders.”
Now that cannabis is becoming legally commodified around the world, the Jamaican government finally feels comfortable enough to embrace its country’s culture and perhaps its most profitable agricultural product without fear of international scrutiny. Not only will foreign cannabis companies have a supportive place to call home, but they will also learn from the history of cannabis use in Jamaica, especially for medical purposes. The plant has been long ingrained into the island’s culture, and with that has come a number of medical remedies that have remained secretive in light of stigmatization.
All in all, the legal framework has set Jamaica up for success in the industry that it helped to create the culture for. Acknowledging the important role that cannabis has played in its history, religion, and economy, the local government is now doing more to make Jamaica the epicenter of cannabis production and research. Seeing that it’s the country that created the stoner counterculture that is celebrated around the world, it’s only right that Jamaica become the international hub for cannabis research, production, and business.