Jamaica Shuffles Cannabis Leadership Ahead of Export Regulations Announcement


Jamaican officials have announced a major leadership realignment at the country’s Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA), pledging that the shake up, along with the forthcoming release of long-promised export regulations, are the final steps ahead of its pivot into global cannabis exports.

On Tuesday, Audley Shaw, the Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce, announced that LeVaughn Flynn would be appointed as Chair of the Cannabis Licensing Authority’s Board of Directors. The Board manages the CLA, which oversees all industry regulation, from the establishment of policies and procedures to the issuance of licenses. 

Flynn, a well-known advocate within Jamaica’s budding industry, replaces long-serving Chair Hyacinth “Cindy” Lightbourne, who served for five years. Lightbourne, an attorney, is credited with leading the strategic direction of the organization, including streamlining licensing and laying the groundwork for Jamaica’s craft hemp industry for the production of cannabidiol (CBD) for medicinal purposes. 

Jamaica was the first country in the Caribbean to legalize cannabis for medical, scientific, and therapeutic purposes, back in 2015. Due partly to the island’s historical association with the plant and low-cost production, Jamaica’s industry has drawn international investors. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has stalled vital developments, such as the export regulations promised since last April, pushing some investors to sell their Jamaican assets despite the local industry’s long-term potential.

Jamaica’s domestic cannabis industry has “a lot of catching up to do if it is going to hold on to a piece of the pie of the global cannabis industry,” Shaw said in a meeting at the Ministry on Tuesday, and the appointment of Flynn and other members of the leadership team is meant to accelerate growth in the industry. He added that the long-promised export regulations to support licensees and other stakeholders are at the final stages before promulgation. 

“I want to advise that those regulations have now come back from the Ministry of Justice and are at its final stages at the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel,” he told meeting attendees, adding that solutions to other impediments to the industry’s growth, such as access to banking, are in the works. “We are well on the way to removing another roadblock for us to get into full speed with the cannabis industry.”

While introducing Flynn on Tuesday, Minister of State in the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce Norman Dunn, who is the line Minister responsible for the industry, said that it was important to “ensure that the person who we are asking to lead this organization is one that knows the industry,” given the pace of global growth in the industry. 

Jamaica must prepare for the possible legalization of cannabis at the federal level in the United States, and opportunities in other major markets in the coming years, according to Flynn.

“We’ve seen the rescheduling and reclassification of cannabis by the United Nations (UN) and [movement] by the United States government, and those things give us the impression that, potentially, in another couple years, we could have cannabis legalized at the federal level in the United States. When that happens, that completely opens the global free trade for cannabis,” Flynn told attendees after accepting his appointment. “I think the questions we have to ask ourselves are, when that happens, where will Jamaica be? And, going forward, what role will Jamaica play? How will we take our piece of the pie?” 

Flynn said that the Cannabis Licensing Authority must be a regulator that is efficient and seeks to create an environment that promotes greater commercial activity.      

“I believe in authentic and strong stakeholder relationships and I believe that going forward, there needs to be a strong collaborative effort between the Authority and the licensees,” he added. 

Companies that invested in Jamaica have, over the past year, acknowledged concerns about regulatory delays there, and about the overall uncertainty in the international cannabis industry. Last summer, major players in the global cannabis industry, such as Canadian cannabis company Aphria, divested from Jamaica. Another Canadian cannabis company, The Green Organic Dutchman, which partnered with Epican Medicinals in Jamaica, also divested, citing in its financial statements last March that market conditions on the island had forced the company to revise its near-term and long-term growth forecasts and to forgo the expansion of its proposed cultivation activities for export in Jamaica in order to focus on its Canadian operations.

The Cannabis Licensing Authority’s Board, which has been approved by the country’s Cabinet of Ministers to serve a three-year term, is working to have the export regulations published by mid-year. 

Apart from Flynn, other members of the Board are: Gabrielle Hylton, Shullette Cox, Ava Maxam, André Coore, Delano Seiveright, Samantha Allen, Barrington Thomas, Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie, Professor Wayne McLaughlin, Michelle Walker, Cameil Wilson-Clarke, Kamau Janai, and Barbara Blake-Hannah. 

The group includes experts in various areas, such as agriculture, business development, marketing, law, and medicine, such as Bisasor-McKenzie, who is currently Jamaica’s Chief Medical Officer, and Walker, who heads the Legal Affairs Unit at its Ministry of Foregin Affairs and Foreign Trade.

The Authority is also expected to announce an appointment to the position of Chief Executive Officer in the coming weeks when the tenure of Lincoln Allen, who has served in the role since 2018, ends. Allen is credited with development of a special cultivation permit that aims to  bring hundreds of indigenous and traditional farmers into the country’s budding medical cannabis industry.

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