Could Jamaica be the answer to Canada’s cannabis shortage?

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Some might argue that the marijuana leaf is to Jamaica what the maple leaf is to Canada. Through centuries of history, cannabis has been woven into Jamaican culture. And since the plant was legalized for medical use in 2015, many Jamaican companies have been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to grow the business sector, including a blossoming export market.

Recently, Zeifmans held an event at the Pantages Hotel in Toronto that brought together cannabis industry experts from both Canada and Jamaica to discuss the future of our countries’ cannabis relationship. Esteemed professionals from licensed producers to business advisors to government ministers attended and spoke in front of several hundred attendees. In today’s blog post, we’re going to share some of the most important takeaways from the event.

A budding relationship
Following the legalization of medical cannabis, Jamaica has issued nearly 30 licenses to cultivate and sell the plant. Of those 30, at least 8 are Canadian: Canopy Growth Corp, Aphria, The Green Organic Dutchman, Global Canna Labs, Jacana, HERBS, Timeless Herbal Care (“Timeless”) and the Jamaican Medical Cannabis Collective (“JMCC”). Per Jamaican law, foreign companies must have a local partner holding majority control over the business.

In September of 2018, our client Timeless sent the first ever shipment[1] of medical cannabis from Jamaica to Canada for analytical testing. In March of 2019, Jacana followed suit[2], sending the first ever export of Jamaican cannabis flower to Canada. In the coming months, it’s likely that we will see such exports leaving Jamaica more frequently, as a number of new licenses are granted, and existing licensees reach the point of harvest.

Respect for the cannabis culture
Courtney Betty, CEO of Timeless,  has stated that a significant number of Jamaicans have relied on Cannabis for their livelihood for decades. To them, this isn’t merely a financial investment, or the newest, latest craze. These legacy growers hold an impressive knowledge about the crop that has been passed down through the generations. It’s a history that cannot be ignored. For Jamaican/Canadian cannabis collaborations to thrive, there needs to be a level of respect, and an understanding of that history.

Similarly, there must be support for the inclusion of legacy farmers. The current Jamaican system has made it difficult for local growers to gain licenses[3] without significant financial backing from outside sources. If Jamaica’s cannabis industry is to truly gain momentum, that existing knowledgeable farm base will need to be brought into the fold.

Supply and demand
Canada’s cannabis market is booming. As time continues to pass and taboos become further and further erased, sales of both recreational and medical cannabis continue to rise. Recent figures say that following the opening of cannabis retail store locations in Ontario, monthly legal sales of cannabis rose from $7.6 million to $19.6 million in just one month[4]!

Concerns about cannabis supply and demand in the Canadian market are therefore very real. And Jamaican cannabis companies could prove to be the perfect partner. While the licensing and approval process is lengthy in both countries, Canadian investors have the ability to partner with local growers in Jamaica to gain access to an instant increased supply, as well as many unique strains.

Diversity and heritage
Acting as a solution to the supply challenge is not the only factor that makes Jamaica an attractive partner for cannabis investors. The island boasts optimal growing conditions, with 50% humidity, equal night and day hours, clean mountain air, fertile soil and most importantly weather that is conducive to year around growing. In the words of Mark Pinnock, CEO and Founder of Kingston 12 Ganja Corporation, “There is a reason that coffee and bananas are not grown in Canada”.

Having cultivated these crops for so many years, the strains are considered “Landrace”- perfectly adapted to their growing environment. The strains are unique, and will add much needed diversity to the cannabis offering in Canada.

It’s worth noting that the special nature of these heritage strains in Jamaica has led the JMCC to partner with Jamaica’s National Foundation for the Development of Science and Technology to fund a 10-year study that will find and seek to protect heritage strains from over-hybridization and extinction.

Better together
At our panel discussions, our experts all shared a common belief that there are countless opportunities for alignment between the Canadian and Jamaican cannabis industries. That being said, panelists and experts present a realistic view that balanced hope for the future of the Jamaican industry, and a belief that Canadian investors should still exercise caution during the early phase of Jamaican legal production.

From Mark Pinnock:
“Jamaican medical cannabis is so sought after by the 30+ countries who have regulated it that Canada is in a prime position to help partner and build the best export system for the plant globally. Let’s go.”

From Andre Chevolleau, CEO of New Level Farms:
“The global opportunity for Jamaican cannabis is still in its infancy.  Given Jamaica’s reputation for high quality ganja known throughout the world, it is one of the only countries with an established global brand that needs no introduction. We here at New Level Farms strive daily to provide access to patients worldwide, so that everyone can experience the unique medicinal benefits of our sacred plant. That is our vision and our goal, and we aspire to leave that legacy as our contributions to humanity.”

From Bob Benia, Independent Cannabis Consultant:
“On the one hand, Jamaica is the only country that can boast of an authentic, indigenous ganja culture for the past 200 years, producing highly desired cannabis worldwide. On the other hand, Jamaica currently has been slow in providing the technology infrastructure, equipment servicing, specialized parts supply chain and access to the international financial markets to support this nascent industry unlike Germany, Israel and Canada. I have experienced an indifference to product testing and quality control – independent labs are few and under equipped, in-house lab testing ability sparse, dispensaries not demanding product labeling from its suppliers.  Finally, government licensing process is challenging, and export regulations not yet defined. It’s a matter of time and political will for Jamaica to catch up to compete globally as a major player. So, for those companies interested in extending their footprint to Jamaica, my advice is to build your company culture based on quality control at all levels of the value chain to help raise the bar for Jamaican cannabis products to be readily accepted in global markets.”

From Larry Zeifman, CPA, CA, Partner, Zeifmans
“Given Canada’s latest regulations regarding licensing standards and facility operations, we see that partnering with Jamaican producers could alleviate many of the stressors associated with the potential for a supply shortage within the Canadian cannabis market. As with any nascent industry, we recommend that our clients gain a thorough education in both the financial and political elements that may affect their investment in any foreign country; cannabis in Jamaica is no different in this respect.”

As trusted advisors within the cannabis business space, the team at Zeifmans has a realistic, informed, and well-balanced view of the potential for beneficial relations between the Jamaican and Canadian industries. As a member of the Nexia International  cannabis team, and as a Canadian firm that constantly assists clients operating in Israel and elsewhere internationally, we have a unique understanding of the implications for global cannabis companies, and look forward to advising our clients as the worldwide industry continues to gain momentum.

From Courtney Betty:
“The organizing of this event by Zeifmans is a tremendous tribute to the progress Jamaica is making in developing an international medical cannabis industry. Timeless has been a part of this development from the very beginning and as the only GMP certified extraction and processing facility in the Caribbean we are able to export Jamaican medical cannabis to the rest of the world.  Timeless is especially proud of our partnership with organizations such as Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital to develop FDA approved medication targeting pain relief and opiate reduction.”

For more information on this event, or to speak to one of our cannabis business experts, reach out to our team today.

[1] Marijuana Business Daily, “First Medical Marijuana Shipment from Jamaica Heads to Canada”, https://mjbizdaily.com/first-medical-marijuana-shipment-from-jamaica-heads-to-canada/

[2] Newswire, “Jacana Completes First Ever Global Export of Jamaican Cannabis”, https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/jacana-completes-first-ever-global-export-of-jamaican-cannabis-833844692.html

[3] Miami Herald, “Jamaica Allows Medical Marijuana, but Now What?”, https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/article230916353.html

[4] BNN Bloomberg, “Ontario to Issue 50 New Pot Shop Licenses Under New Vetting Process”, https://www.bnnbloomberg.ca/ontario-to-issue-50-new-pot-shop-licences-under-new-vetting-process-1.1282071