Hill touts legalised ganja sale to tourists

MONTEGO BAY, St James — Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce Senator Aubyn Hill has suggested the legalised sale of marijuana to visitors as a way for Jamaica to earn revenue from countries that do not allow imports of the herb.

“We don’t have to send it in plane loads [as an export item]. We have to get our act together through the CLA [Cannabis Licensing Authority] , through the ministry, through RADA [Rural Agricultural Development Agency], and make sure the people who come here to buy our export product called tourism and hotels and jerk and so on, have access — legal, proper, regulated access — to this product,” he said.

Hill was speaking on Friday during the opening ceremony for the first day of Canex 2023, now underway at Montego Bay Convention Centre in Rose Hall, St James. Canex is an annual gathering of players in the cannabis industry.

“We keep forgetting that we have only three million people but we have 4.5 million who come to us every year. And many of them — when they were in college — came to Jamaica and know ganja very well. They know Jamaican ganja,” the minister said.

His comments were phrased within the context of the imbalance in Jamaica’s trade figures for 2021, which he said showed a gap of US$4.584 billion. Hill told his audience that since independence there has been only one year when Jamaica’s trade figures have been in the black, and warned that a country that continues to have negative trade balances cannot remain viable.

“If Jamaica is going to grow we need to reduce that debt-to-GDP [ratio]. But we need — equally as strong and now even more forcefully — to export a lot more exponentially. And I am talking about people who you don’t have to take your product overseas to export it — we’ll bring them here for you,” he said.

Hill explained that ganja and other Schedule One drugs cannot be legally transported by air over US airspace, and that Canada is also not an option.

“Canada has overproduced from the excitement of ganja; they have no room to buy anything from overseas, they have too much,” he revealed.

He spoke of the need to work at changing the rules of engagement with international partners to get ganja into the hands of visitors until Jamaica is able to increase the amount of medical marijuana that it exports.

“We now have to make the rules — within the treaties that we sign — so amenable and easily accessible so that the export market that comes to Jamaica that is called tourism will be serviced by this industry until we can export more,” he stated.

In addition to pointing to opportunities in countries beyond North America such as “Australia, Germany, maybe Austria, maybe Israel”, Hill also urged industry players to work with the CLA to increase from the current total of 63 the number of local dispensaries where the drug is sold legally.

“All of you out there, ‘Stop complaining and work with us. The CLA is willing to work with you,’ ” the minister urged.