By Barry Gainsburg
It’s rare to see these sort of interviews from an academic perspective outside the USA, so well worth a read.
We’d also like to clarify the use of the word Ganja which many outside Jamaica may see as some sort of affection as a result of reggae music and popular culture
As you will note in the fact sheet, “Fact Sheet Prepared By The Ministry of Justice On The Dangerous Drugs (Amendment ) Act 2015” embedded below the (pdf) ; the government use the word Ganja in official documents
The contemporary word Ganja is derived from the Sanskrit / 19th Century Hindu word Gamja . This article provides a reasonably concise history of the usage
Ms. Vicki Hanson and I have been carrying on an interesting correspondence over Linkedin. Vicki is a PhD candidate in public policy and ganja reform lobbyist. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to ask Vicki about some of the issues surrounding Ganja Reform in Jamaica.
Barry: Hi Vicki, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. Would you mind providing us with some background on your experiences as a ganja reform lobbyist in Jamaica?
Vicki: Hi Barry, thanks for this opportunity to speak with you about Ganja Policy and Regulation in Jamaica. Well, my personal contact with ganja came from I was a child, as a number of persons in my family are of the Rastafarian faith and I had seen them use ganja during various family gatherings. However, my actual advocacy and lobby started four years ago, when I was asked to work as an assistant to the Ganja Law Reform Coalition (“GLRC”).
Barry: Thanks Vicki. I guess let me turn to the actual passage of the Ganja Reform Bill (Amended Dangerous Drugs Act), what was the political and legislative battle lie regarding its passage?
Vicki: This has been a political issue in Jamaica for a very long time. Actually, there was a Joint Select Committee of both Houses of Parliament in 1977 which was set up to discuss the matter of ganja in Jamaica, and in 2001 there was a National Commission on Ganja. In both cases the committees agreed that there should be decriminalization of ganja, but there was not much international support then and so the matter was not moved along.
Barry: Now, at this stage, my understanding is that the Jamaican Government has only issued research licenses to the universities but no other licenses have been issued. What timeline do you see for the roll out of medicinal ganja and its availability for use in Jamaica?
Vicki: Actually, another company Timeless Herbal Care (“THC”) got a license in October to cultivate ganja for research purposes. However, I can’t reasonably respond as to when other licenses will be granted. What I do know is that there has been the formation of the Cannabis Licensing Authority (“CLA”) and they have been meeting to discuss, what the regulations would look like as it relates to licenses being granted.
Barry: The follow up question, is do you see recreational ganja being legalized and when, rather than its current status of being “decriminalized” and subject to a ticket violation and fine for its use?
Vicki: As it relates to the legalizing of ganja for recreational use that is a matter which our government has been careful on because Jamaica is a signatory to the United Nations Conventions on Narcotic Drugs. So far the government has been careful not to set outside of these international conventions. However, I must say that personally, I would like for us to move in the direction of legalizing ganja for recreational use, under a proper regulated framework. The discussion on that aspect needs to start now, with all parties concerned, but more so with organizations that still remain anti-ganja and seek to demonize the use of the plant.
Barry: As long time proponents of ganja legalization, how does the Rasta Community fit into the Ganja Reform efforts? How does Rasta deal with “Babylon” on this matter?
Vicki: The current reform has offered an opportunity to the Rastafarian community to benefit from ganja, as they have been granted sacramental right to grow and use. This is coming from a situation where they were being mistreated and arrested for their use of ganja and their “livity”. This now is an opportunity for some kind of reparation or at least that is how the situation is being viewed by a number of Rastafarians.
Barry: How can the Jamaican government successfully implement a policy where Jamaican citizens, including the Rasta Community, are the real beneficiaries of the Ganja Reform?
Vicki: I strongly believe that the government should ensure that the grassroots growers and community based persons are kept in the evolving industry. Therefore, access to land for farmers who currently growing on government land, or illegally on other persons’ property can get areas to lease.
Barry: Do you see foresee Jamaica eventually allowing for exportation of its Ganja? I know that many in Jamaica and in the US are looking forward to that day. A company like Privateer rather than selling its ganja product with US grown ganja, would much prefer to sell ganja grown on the island of Bob Marley’s birth since it would give the product much greater authenticity.
Vicki: I do hope the Jamaican grower get a chance to export to other countries in the future, as it important to preserve the real “brand Jamaica” ganja. Additionally, the export of ganja would also become another avenue by which the ordinary Jamaican ganja growers would be able to legally earn foreign exchange from ganja.
Barry: Any thoughts of how the long standing Pinnacle situation will play any role in Ganja Reform within the Rasta Community?
Vicki: The history of Pinnacle is very much linked to that of ganja in Jamaica, as it was one of the main crops produced there as a means of sustaining the community, and the habitants of the Pinnacle community at the time face great repression by the police because of it. This cultural and historical significance is critical to the Ganja Reform movement in Jamaica.
Barry: What steps are the Jamaican government taking to ensure that a quality product will be properly grown and distributed, while preventing diversion of ganja to the hills?
Vicki: The quality product control can and should be dealt with through whatever, regulations will be put in place for the ganja industry. As stated before as well, the government should assist the growers to access lands that can be more suited for the growing of ganja; this would definitely ensure better quality and prevent deforestation of the hills.
Barry: Do you have any quick thoughts regarding the next steps in Jamaica’s implementation of the Ganja Reform Bill?
Vicki: My final thoughts are, firstly to ensure that as we move into a new approach in dealing with ganja, we seek to quickly put the regulations in place to support the involvement of the traditional growers of ganja. However, we should also ensure that minors are prevented from having access to ganja, hence protecting them from engaging in the use of the plant until them are more developed.
Barry: Vicki, as always, I really want to thank you for sharing with us today. You have given us all much greater clarity into this fast evolving area of legislation. Your insights are truly invaluable.
Presentation at the Drug Policy Reform Conference, 2015, Washington D.C.