Cannabis advocates in Jamaica are celebrating after the Caribbean nation made its first legal export of marijuana extract oil to Canada.

The Jamaican Ministry of Health provided the export permit after local producer Timeless Herbal Care tied up a deal with Health Canada to export the oil. The government called it an important first step in establishing Jamaica as a global leader in an industry that is increasingly being legalized and regulated across the world.

“Jamaica is uniquely positioned to be a global player and we are committed to providing the leadership and resources required for opening the international markets including Canada and Europe for our licensed and regulated Jamaican companies,” said Audley Shaw, minister of industry, commerce, agriculture and fisheries.

Jamaica is the largest producer in the Caribbean, with a climate and biodiversity perfectly suited to growing high-grade marijuana.

Shaw, a previous deputy leader of the Labour Party, has been a long-time advocate of the potential economic benefits of cannabis cultivation to Jamaica. It’s the largest producer in the Caribbean, with a climate and biodiversity perfectly suited to growing high-grade marijuana, and Shaw has always said cannabis can help his country move from poverty to prosperity.

The opposition party, the People’s National Party, is equally keen on turning Jamaica into a major exporter of cannabis. Ambassador Anthony Hylton, shadow minister of planning, called the first export to Canada a “historic development”, urging the government to ensure it’s not a one-off event, but one that opens the floodgates for a vast number of deals that establish Jamaica in manifold overseas markets. He also hopes it marks a turning point for the push to create a regulated cannabis industry in Jamaica.

Cannabis was banned in Jamaica under the 1913 Ganja Act, but in 2015 the legislature voted to all but decriminalize possession of up to two ounces (56.6g). It’s now considered a “petty offense”, punishable by a maximum fine of just $5, and police turn a blind eye to it.

Cultivation of up to five plants per household is also permitted, Rastafarians can use it as a sacrament for religious purposes, and tourists with a medicinal marijuana license can buy it. In March 2018, the first medicinal marijuana dispensary opened on the island, and lobbyists hope the entire industry will soon be made legal.

The government has handed out more than 15 business licenses for cannabis cultivation, while Toronto-based Jamaican Medical Cannabis Collective has signed contracts to provide Jamaican marijuana to several Canadian practitioners. Yet fully legalizing cannabis is a tricky process as Jamaica’s financial system goes through the US – where cannabis is outlawed at a federal level – and it relies on aid and remittances.

Jamaican banks have corresponding banks in the US, which are federally regulated, and they could end the agreement if the Jamaican bank is engaged in any activity that is illegal under US federal law, which sounds the death knell for that Jamaican bank. It also depends on the US for trade and tourism, so it has been reluctant to legalize cannabis when it’s illegal in America. Yet several states have legalized marijuana, and if the federal government follows suit it could pave the way for Jamaica to roll out a lucrative, regulated export market.

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