Canadian-Jamaican company Green Stripe Naturals helping Jamaica step onto global legal cannabis stage
When the Jamaican government decriminalized cannabis in 2015, allowing Jamaicans to legally grow and possess small amounts of ganja - the Rastafarian sacrament that had long been tolerated by authorities but never legalized - it was an important - and overdue - cultural, social and economic step for Jamaica.
Over the past four years, the Jamaican government has slowly and deliberately been putting the pieces in place to legalize the commercial cultivation, processing, research and development, transportation and sale of ganja for medicinal purposes.
The large-scale export of raw Jamaican cannabis and processed cannabis products for medical or adult-use recreational markets in other countries hasn’t happened yet, but that potentially game-changing development appears to be very close on the horizon.
With an average GDP growth of less than one percent over the last 30 years, Jamaica is now poised to move toward the head of the class in the burgeoning multi-billion-dollar legal cannabis industry.
In fact, as we sit at the mid-point of 2019, the legalization of medicinal ganja across Jamaica is now in place, with the exception of the cannabis export regulations, which are expected shortly.
(Wayne Isaacs, CEO, Green Stripe Naturals Ltd.)
Five types of commercial cannabis licenses
To provide a sense of where things currently stand, my company, Green Stripe Naturals Ltd., through its Jamaican partner, is one of only a handful of companies with approval or conditional approval for all five types of commercial cannabis licenses available in Jamaica. These include separate licenses for cannabis cultivation, processing, transportation, research and development, and distribution through medical dispensaries, which in Jamaica are aptly known as Herb Houses.
Green Stripe is a Vancouver-based private company that has commenced the process of having its shares listed for trading on a Canadian stock exchange.
With nearly 4.5 million tourists per year visiting Jamaica (an island nation of fewer than three million people), gaining the ability to legally capitalize on the country’s legendary and well-earned status as a producer of top-quality cannabis and being able to add a new and highly-profitable component to the country’s essential tourism industry is a tremendously exciting proposition.
However, as appealing as the Jamaican domestic cannabis market is, the potential economic impact of a well-structured, well-managed, and disciplined global cannabis export regime in Jamaica is no less than astounding.
Let’s look at some numbers
Depending on whose estimates you’re looking at, the worldwide market for legal, medical cannabis is expected to exceed US$35 billion by 2023. Some projections suggest the global market for legal recreational cannabis will be four to five times as large in the same time frame. So, with the entire legal cannabis market expected to approach US$200 billion in less than five years’ time, it wouldn’t take a huge – or inconceivable – global market share grab for Jamaica to exceed its entire annual GDP of around US$15 billion with legal cannabis exports, alone. The domestic market would simply be delicious Jamaican gravy.
For a nation that has been under the thumb of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) since 1963, the prospect of finally being able to not only be economically but also prosperously self-sufficient is extremely tantalizing.
From a fiscal perspective, the cannabis industry could literally take Jamaica out of debt in one fell swoop. The country has such great production capacity. Jamaica has an undisputed national brand and global reputation for having amazing cannabis genetics, along with an ideal tropical microclimate that can offer 3.5 natural cultivation cycles per year to support a highly efficient and productive commercial production industry.
Jamaica also has a reputation for growing far more potent and far more diverse strains of cannabis than other countries, including Colombia and Mexico, which also enjoy many natural advantages over predominantly indoor-dependent cannabis producing countries like Canada.
As great as all the above is, Jamaica’s true ‘X-factor’ in the global cannabis industry is entirely human: Jamaica has multigenerational experience in producing fine, premium cannabis. It's been grown for the illegal market by people whose families have been growing ganja for 70 years.
These people have always grown ganja in the shadows because when you're growing weed illegally, you grow it quickly, you harvest it quickly, you sell it quickly, and you move on to the next spot before law enforcement catches up with you.
However, meeting these people at town hall meetings, we hear them say: ‘We don't want to have to be looking over our shoulders anymore. We want to come on board with a legitimate industry and bring our historical growing techniques to the market.’
The truth is Jamaica’s traditional ganja growers have some tremendous cannabis growing experience using natural fertilizer products, natural pesticides, and other organic yield-boosting techniques. They're simply really good at growing ganja, so it makes perfect sense to bring them on as master growers, which is what Green Stripe is doing, along with establishing offtake agreements with several smaller local producers who can grow to our strict standards.
According to our projections, nearly 80 percent of the cannabis our company will be cultivating will be headed out of the country - predominantly in extract form - to export destinations around the world, including retail and wholesale customers in North America and Europe. Australia, the Middle East and parts of Asia are also on the horizon.
Currently, we have a fully built cultivation facility on 20 acres of property in a parish in south-central Jamaica that has been approved for cultivation by the Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA), the government agency responsible for licensing, monitoring and enforcement of commercial cannabis operations in Jamaica.
We are also in the process of securing land rights options on an additional 300 acres of adjacent land, which would give us enough capacity to produce many thousands of kilograms of fine Jamaican ganja per year. With remarkably low Jamaican input costs, as well as our realizable economies of scale, our cost per gram produced will be much lower than most other places on earth.
Although we’re starting initially at a level to meet local demand, we're prepared to scale up immediately as soon as regulations permit and need dictates. We are a fully integrated company with the full suite of available commercial licenses for cannabis production in Jamaica. We believe this positions us to very quickly become one of the leading legal producers and exporters of raw cannabis and processed cannabis products in Jamaica.
We will certainly be one of the first.
Wayne Isaacs is a Canadian-Jamaican investment banking veteran with more than 30 years’ experience on Bay Street, including multiple roles as a chief executive officer in the mining industry.