CANNABIS CULTURE – When I saw the speaker list that included Bruce Linton, Cam Battley, Vincente Fox, Steve DeAngelo and NBA super star John Salley, along with several of the top Jamaican Government officials, it was clear that this 4th Edition of the conference was one of the can’t miss events of the year.  

I once lived in Montego Bay, close to the Montego Bay Convention Center where the event was being held, ten years ago, and this trip brought back waves of emotion.  As anyone who has ever been to Jamaica will tell you, the island nation and the people who live there, truly get into your soul. This event was taking place right across from where I had lived, those few years ago so I truly felt I was going home. 

I had enlisted my friend, Toronto Cannabis educator, and marketing / instagram master, (Weedstagram416) Johnathan Hirsh, who had attended the event the year prior, to give me the scoop on what to expect along with his favorite Hemp Houses he had discovered, and in return I would take him to the greatest jerk pork in the world. A perfect match.

With the event taking place in late September, the weather was at its worst for thick blooded white boys like me coming in from Amsterdam. The moment they opened the cabin door, the heat and humidity hit me like somebody threw a bucket of water in my direction. I didn’t stop sweating until my return to the aircraft a week later, at least it seemed that way.

I made my way to the Riu Palace hotel, where the staff did an excellent job, quickly getting me into my air-conditioned room where I planned my attack for the next two days. I was the first person to arrive on day one and had the opportunity to see the steady stream of excited attendees consisting of small farmers, investors, entrepreneurs of all sorts, media, politicians and growers, and what seemed to be a lot of Canadians. 

I asked Canex founder Douglas K. Gordon after the event if my perception was correct, that there seemed to be an abundance of Canadians attending. 

“Okay, if truth be told, where does the bulk of the investment in the industry come from? It’s Canada, and so looking strategically at export markets and global growth, you’d expect them to be disproportionately represented. And I think you’d see this when you go to conferences, some of the bigger conferences in Columbia or Mexico and that sort of thing. They have the biggest footprint, so our thing is really we’re trying to track people who are interested in moving the global industry forward. And as a consequence of that we’re proud that we had 37 different countries, like I said, represented, I’m not particularly surprised that there were a lot of Canadians there.’”

The networking in the halls of the centre started long before the opening blessing from the Director of the Rastafari indigenous village, Edward Wray who made sure that everyone was properly aligned with each other and Mother Earth. A enlightening blessing, ensuring that all the attendees who were there helping to industrialize the plant, were also listening to the plant and Mother Earth in the process. 

It became apparent in my discussions with many attendees that Jamaica was still in the baby stages of legalization, and  they were many concerns about the “little man / legacy farmers” getting squeezed out or priced out of the game, and HEMP.

Hemp is a HUGE issue here.

As Mr. Gordon explains: “There’s a huge fear that the cross-pollination of hemp will threaten the cannabis industry. It’s as simple as that really and what you have is, you have hemp experts who are arguing that, with modern day science that can be prevented, right? And then you have traditional farmers who, they want no part of that. It’s a very emotional issue in Jamaica; Emotional not in a patronizing way, but a cultural significant type of way that suggests that you’re not being fully respectful of its legacy and its significance.“ 

I heard about this issue 3 times from attendees, before I heard the first speaker.

After getting jacked up on some killer Jamaican coffee and a pre-conference Doobie, we were off to the races, but with not without few false starts that Canex founder Douglas K. Gordon needed to address before the conference could hit stride. 

We find out that three of the first day speakers, were forced to cancel their travel for different reasons, but in traditional Jamaican “no problem-soon come” style, Gordon just did a little switch around and put it all back on track. 

The beginning of the conference focused on government officials reassuring all, that the oncoming cannabis wave was not going to leave out the little man. 

This message was repeated many times over the duration of the event. The Government policy that all cannabis companies must have 51% ownership by a Jamaican citizenship along with their alternative development (ADP) which helps small farmers from the illegal trade to transition to the legal one, were lauded as strong steps towards protecting Jamaican Cannabis sovereignty. But the “little man”, small growers are obviously still having challenges.

Day one keynote speaker was Cam Battley, the CEO of Aurora Cannabis, with other morning breakout topics such as: “Hemp and Cannabis: can they coexist?”, “Innovation, Compliance and Standards”, “Financing your Cannabis Business”, “Post Discrimination of Cannabis” plus several sessions on Medicinal Cannabis and CBD Therapy, including a one on one with Diane Scott of Jamaica Medical Cannabis Collective. 

Additional sessions included “Emerging Markets: Columbian Opportunities”, “Cannabis Testing and Innovation”,and a session on the “Legal Pitfalls that Cannabis Businesses Face and How to Avoid Them.”  

Mr. Battley came across as sincere and connected to the audience during his presentation on the “Global Perspective on Legalization”. This was tested a bit during the question and answer period, where he was very patient, and focused with a long winded, concerned Rastafarian and ultimately he seemed to understand the importance of respecting the role of ganja, as a sacrament in the Rastafarian community.

 In addition to discussing the importance of CSR, corporate social responsibility and giving business advice to a wide array of small business owners, he concluded his session with an interesting statement about legacy sectors.  

“One thing I will add, and this is important in some jurisdictions, they have allowed people who come from what’s called the legacy sectors before legalization and join and be part of the new opportunities, to be part of the new legal and regulated  system. In other cases, they’ve said, no, not for you. You were law breakers and how stupid is that? You’re taking people with the greatest passion and knowledge who clearly have been into this for a long time. And, you tell them that they’re not welcome, what do you think they’re going to do, that actually perpetuates the black market. I say embrace them. Lift them up into the light of legitimacy, and make them part of the legit business. Let them make some money for Christ’s sake ….”

Jonathan and I met up with a small group of growers outside the event center and I had brought my Interpening loops and microscope with me, so I checked out some of the local buds while we waited for a shuttle to head back to the hotel. 

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