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What Does The Future Hold For Jamaica's Cannabis Industry?

The coronavirus may set back the island nation from putting regulations in place for the export and import of medical cannabis, a situation that has led to investors pulling out.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Jamaica, an island nation most consider extremely cannabis-friendly, has experienced difficulties with its legal cannabis industry. New marijuana export regulations were under consideration just as the coronavirus pandemic hit. The coronavirus has delayed those new regulations, which were due in April. This delay may have caused some investors to pull out of the market.

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Canadian cannabis company Aurora sold its assets in Jamaica for $3.4 million in Canadian dollars in May. The company reportedly also sold assets elsewhere to focus on its Canadian operations, according to the Jamaican Gleaner, a newspaper based in Kingston.

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The Green Organic Dutchman is another cannabis company that has pulled out of Jamaica in recent months, according to Marijuana Business Daily. 

The decisions by both companies forebode unfortunate signs of the current state of the cannabis industry in an island nation that is the birthplace of the term ganja. Jamaica has longheld a pro-cannabis image based on icons such as Bob Marley as well as reggae, Rastafarianism, and marijuana decriminalization in 2015.

Still, Jamaican officials remain optimistic the country can become a medical marijuana destination. The government there recently took steps to temporarily extend rules that ensure the marijuana industry can continue to operate during the coronavirus epidemic. Whether that move alone will bring investors back remains unclear. 

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Jamaica's cannabis industry has made all the right moves in recent years.

In 2015, Jamaican lawmakers decriminalized possession of 2 ounces or less, considered personal-use of marijuana. The law change made possession of up to 56.6 grams of cannabis a petty offense that does not result in a criminal record. The maximum fine equals $5. 

Those who use marijuana for Rastafarian practices can use the drug freely in sacramental ceremonies. This, by the way, makes Jamaica the only country to legalize cannabis use for religious ceremonies or purposes.

The current issue involves primarily the export of Jamaican cannabis to other countries. Outside companies had moved onto the island to prepare the cultivation of marijuana for export. They based their investment on the belief marijuana from the island would prove popular worldwide.

But The Green Dutchman pulled out “due to changing market conditions in Jamaica.” That, along with Aurora’s decision, means that “an international market for marijuana that had been ‘flying’ just a few months ago is now slipping into decline and prospects for the future of the Jamaican market now appears to be ‘going soft,’” according to the Jamaican Gleaner.

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Jamaica officials extended temporary regulations.

In May, Jamaican officials passed temporary regulations to keep the import/export business going as they deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. The Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA) recently issued a news release explaining the governing body’s decision.

The holdup on permanent regulations has, apparently, been solely due to the virus. The permanent regulations on importing and exporting cannabis from Jamaica have been reviewed by the country’s Ministry of Industry, Agriculture, and Fisheries (MICAF) and sent to the Ministry of Justice.

The regulations were due in April. However, dealing with the pandemic has slowed down the process. With the future uncertain, and facing financial challenges of their own, the two Canadian companies decided to pull out. 

Jamaican officials said they can still export under the temporary protocols. They also pointed out that once the permanent regulations are put into place, “Jamaica will be one of 10 countries in the world with an export regime.” 

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