The Jamaican government has outlined plans to help illicit cannabis growers capitalize on the country’s emerging legal cultivation industry.

It has launched the Alternative Development Programme to offer farmers with the technical and financial support they need to enter the legal cannabis industry. It plans to significantly increase the scope of this program in 2020 in a bid to stamp out the illicit trade and position Jamaica as a world leader in the global cannabis sector.

“What we will be doing in 2020, is looking for more community groups of traditional growers that we will engage and provide the technical support for them to transition into the medicinal marijuana industry,” said Floyd Green Minister of State for Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, in an address to the House of Representatives.

Global cannabis sales reached $14.4 billion in 2019, with the U.S. and Canada the leading markets, and the market is predicted to triple in size by 2024. Jamaica has a long history of cannabis cultivation and it is well positioned to supply North America in the future.

Growers benefit from fertile soil, great weather and reasonable labour costs, so Jamaica could emerge as a major player in the global cannabis trade. It has historically been reluctant to boost its legal market, as Jamaican banks have corresponding banks in the U.S., where marijuana is illegal at a federal level.

Those American banks have said they would end the agreement if the Jamaican bank is engaged in any activity that is illegal under U.S. federal law, which naturally includes selling cannabis. Jamaica has petitioned the U.S. to soften its stance.

Yet a tentative legal cultivation sector is budding in the Caribbean nation, and it made its first legal export to Canada in September 2019.

Green is helping drive the industry forward. A few months ago he unveiled plans to become a medical cannabis tourism hotspot by tapping into its rich cultivation heritage and sunny climate.

He believes that legal cannabis sales can promote sustained economic development and help eradicate poverty in rural parts of Jamaica.

The Alternative Development Programme ran a pilot with cannabis farmers in Accompong, and Green hailed it a success. This pilot yielded 44 pounds (20 kg) of cannabis that was sold to the medical trade, and the plan is now to replicate it across the country after identifying farmers and suitable land.

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