My ganja teach-in

Weed farmers at Hotbox Jamaica's Ganja School want to know how to grow quality exports for Canada's medpot market, but Health Canada seems freaked out by the idea


St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica – Jamaican ganja farmers have been using the same methods of producing marijuana for generations, but the modern weed world seems to have passed them by.

This was obvious to me as I clambered up a mountainside weed farm on the island recently to learn how much toil goes into producing acres of outdoor pot. Farmers seem to be simply sowing seed and hoping for the best some of the plants were shrivelling and dying, clearly unable to flourish in a tropical climate, while others thrived.

Abi Roach, owner of Kensington Market pot spot the Hotbox Cafe, invited me to take part in the first Ganja School at her new business, Hotbox Jamaica. For a week I led discussions with local farmers and students from around the world on how to improve their ganja crops.

Hands-in-soil learning happens in Hotbox Jamaica’s personal garden. 

Jamaica recently updated its ganja laws. Marijuana is not fully legal, as it is in Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon, but the country officially decriminalized possession of up to 2 ounces of cannabis. 

Tourists have wrongfully believed for years that weed is legal on the island – easy to do when you can buy Jamaican bud by the pound for less than it costs to purchase a few grams from a Toronto Craigslist weed dealer.

But it’s not toking tourism Jamaica is interested in developing. The Jamaican farmers at Hotbox Jamaica’s Ganja School want to know how to grow quality cannabis for possible export to Canada’s burgeoning medpot market. 

The island’s government is setting up a Cannabis Licensing Authority to encourage its farmers to become legal medicinal ganja growers. Parishes have established local ganja growers’ associations to update farming methods. The association motto is “Shareholders, not sharecroppers,” because this legislation could make marijuana more valuable than any of Jamaica’s current commodities. 

The Bob Marley estate has gotten in on the action, selling the late reggae star’s likeness for Marley Natural branded bud.

Marijuana strains play an important role in medicinal marijuana, and Jamaican farmers are growing plants at a crazy rate, producing the seeds to develop more strains. 

The University of the West Indies has already begun a hunt to identify a strain that may be good for export, visiting every parish and asking farmers to provide samples. One or several farmers may already have unwittingly created a plant so high in cannabidiol (CBD) that it could be a medpot game-changer. 

In Ottawa, however, the feds are playing hardball.

Health Canada put foreign companies on notice in what looks like an attempt to discourage the idea that the government is importing raw weed to supply its medpot program. The department issued a bulletin June 9 stating that its medical marijuana program “is neither intended to make Canada an exporter of marijuana, nor to enable importation as an alternative to domestic production.”

Right now, about a dozen companies are producing medpot domestically.

Health Canada-licensed producer Bedrocan has been allowed to import cannabis from its Netherlands facility. Bedrocan just last week announced a merger with Tweed Marijuana Inc., making it the largest medpot supplier in Canada, serving some 25 per cent of licensed users, and may still be allowed to do so. Seems the department is fine with Holland imports. Are the feds just freaked out about Jamaica? 

Toronto lawyer Courtney Betty, who had a hand in persuading Jamaica to change its pot laws, says Canada’s importation regulation around medpot piqued his interest in updating Jamaica’s legislation. 

“This could be a match made in heaven,” he says. Profitable, too.

Betty is also CEO of Timeless Herbal Care, a medicinal cannabis company planning to export marijuana extracts such as pills, tinctures and creams from Jamaica. The company makes the Original Guinea Hen Weed line of products developed by Jamaican researcher Lawrence Williams and touted as a herbal treatment for numerous ailments. Former Ontario PC premier Ernie Eves is chair of the company.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in R v. Smith on June 11 that Canada’s legal medical marijuana patients should have immediate access to extracts and that prohibition of these products was arbitrary. That decision opens up a market opportunity for extracts, “which is great for Jamaica and for our company,” says Betty.

Not surprisingly, Health Minister Rona Ambrose has vowed to fight the ruling tooth and nail, which means Health Canada will probably do little to accommodate companies like Betty’s.

Timeless Herbal Care currently has a pill product loaded with CBD, which is known to have excellent anti-inflammatory, anti-pain and anti-anxiety properties without the stoniness. Timeless Herbal Care holds a patent on its own strain of high-CBD cannabis.

Parents prefer treating their epileptic children with CBD delivered in any form other than smoking, but until R v. Smith, their only option was to toke medpot. Ignored for decades, CBD is just starting to be studied, and the preliminary findings are truly amazeballs.

Betty says, “We have to collect data via clinical controlled trials to figure out how it works to get our product approved. Our partnership (with University of the West Indies) allows science to track results.”

Betty still considers legal Jamaican exports of raw cannabis to Canada a possibility. 

By the time Jamaican farmers update their ganja-growing methods, Canadians will hopefully have a new government with bolder ideas.

Matt Mernagh is author of Marijuana Smoker’s Guidebook: The Easy Way To Identify And Enjoy Marijuana Strains.

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