By Sam Méndez, Executive Director of the Cannabis Law and Policy Project
Late last month the Cannabis Law & Policy Project had the pleasure of hosting Jamaica’s Cannabis Licensing Authority (JCLA) here at UW Law to have a conversation with a few local experts about cannabis legalization. They were brought to us by Washington Office for Latin America’s John Walsh, and we were joined by attorneys Mitzi Hensley Vaughn (Greenbridge Corporate Counsel), Christine Masse (Miller Nash Graham & Dunn), and Robert McVay (Harris Moure). The full list of the JCLA representatives are below.
John warned us with a smile that we’d have too much to talk about with only two hours, and he was right as it went by quickly. The representatives, having already met with the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board and a few cannabis retail outlets, had wanted to meet with some business lawyers in order to get a more commercial and legal perspective. Their own perspective was fascinating.
It seemed their concern first and foremost was preventing Jamaican cannabis farmers from being taken advantage of. They explained how farmers, often without significant education and in some cases illiterate, have been approached by businessmen seeking to capitalize on the relaxing of Jamaica’s laws on cannabis. While they stopped short of saying that a commercialized system such as Washington’s was not in Jamaica’s interest, they did seem chiefly concerned with keeping the business Jamaican and not letting the industry be taken over by foreign corporations. This is not a concern you hear about in the United States, Canada, or Mexico given the size of these countries. But Jamaica is small and relatively poor. It is my belief that the Western Hemisphere’s history of colonialism and imperialism is embedded within these countries, of which Jamaica was no exception.
What was also interesting is the concern Jamaica has had over international drug treaties (of which Jamaica is a signatory), and how legalizing cannabis could be violating these treaties. Because of Jamaica’s small size, it’s an unfair reality that violating treaties for them would likely result in more serious consequences than if the United States violated the treaties. Apparently, U.S. officials assert the U.S. is not violating international law because the recent drug reform has occurred at the state level while remaining illegal at the federal level (that same article quotes John Walsh himself, who disputes that claim). Jamaica is more likely to be subject to, for example, sanctions than the United States is, simply because the U.S. is a global superpower. Canada enjoys similar privilege, though international law is of concern there too.
Finally, the JCLA officials emphasized how cannabis has been a part of Rastafarian culture for hundreds of years, so the reasons behind this recent reform is something far deeper than raising tax revenue.
In sum, it is invaluable to get an international perspective when it comes to cannabis policy, as you realize that different countries approach the question differently. In Mexico, as I’ve noted previously, cannabis use is brought up within the frame of human rights, both one’s right to use as development of one’s personality and reflecting on the drug-related violence there. Jamaica approaches it with an eye on traditional culture and protecting farmers. Both of these examples are distinct from the United States, in which tax revenue, the failure of the War on Drugs, and changing perceptions of cannabis’ danger are brought up more often.
Next week the CLPP will take part in a similar conversation with Canada’s cannabis task force, so stay tuned.