I recently traveled to Montego Bay for the annual CanEx Jamaica conference. I spoke on a panel with attorneys from Jamaica and Canada about the legal challenges across international cannabis markets. Grace Lindo of Jamaican firm Nunes, Scholefield, DeLeon & Co. and Sandra Gogal of Canadian firm Miller Thomson LLP, each spoke about the markets in their respective countries while I cover legal challenges in the US. The panel was moderated by Imani Duncan-Price, Chief of Staff for the Office of the Leader of the Opposition.
Jamaica breaks commercial cannabis licenses into six categories: cultivator, processor, transporter, retailer and a research and development license. A licensed business must be “substantially owned” (at least 51%) by Jamaican residents.
Because Jamaica has decriminalized cannabis under its licensing regime, intellectual property protection is available for trademarks. According to Lindo, Jamaica’s Patent Act is somewhat outdated, meaning that it is not possible, per se, to get protection for plant varieties. Trade secrets and know-how are not statutorily protected, so in Jamaica, confidentiality agreements are key.
Canada’s legal cannabis market is poised to take off this month, so it was very interesting to hear about the legal framework for our northern neighbors. This is when Canada’s “Cannabis Act” goes into effect, legalizing cannabis at the federal level. Like the US, Canada has a federal system of government. When it comes to cannabis, the federal government has jurisdiction over cultivation, quality control, and taxation. Provinces and territories, in turn, have jurisdiction over distribution and retail. There will be six license types: cultivation, processing, analytical testing, sale, research, and a cannabis drug license.
The Canadian market will arrive in a somewhat subdued form. Edible products, other than oils, will not be available initially. Also, the Canadian government is imposing strict limitations on the advertising and marketing. There is a general prohibition on promoting cannabis other than exceptions for “informational” and “brand-preference” promotion. That promotion will only be permitted for adults.
Because cannabis is going to be legal at the federal level in both Jamaica and Canada, my fellow panelists agreed that the international cannabis trade is going to be picking up in the near term. I discussed why America won’t be participating in this market until our federal laws change. As I recently wrote, the Controlled Substance Act makes it nearly impossible to import or export cannabis. I also spoke about the difference between marijuana and industrial hemp, and how the states have taken different approaches to regulating both hemp and marijuana.
It appears to me that both Jamaica’s and Canada’s laws have been influenced by various U.S. state markets. For example, like Jamaica, several states impose residency requirements. Canada has followed states like Washington in creating restrictive marketing rules designed to prevent promoting cannabis to children. On a larger scale, both Jamaica and Canada have also been influenced by the type of licenses issued. The model of issuing cultivation, processing, retail, and research licenses is certainly influenced by states like Washington, Oregon, and California.
When it comes to cannabis, American states have been pioneers and are now influencing regulatory regimes across the globe. However, America as a nation continues to fall behind due to the inability to participate in the international markets. There are signs that this could change, as the Associated Press recently reported that the University of California San Diego’s Center for Medical Cannabis Research obtained a permit from the Drug Enforcement Agency to import capsules from Tilray Inc., a Canadian cannabis company, that contain CBD and THC derived from marijuana. UCSD researchers will look into the cannabinoids effectiveness in treating tremors. Though this is limited, it is a step in the right direction to keep the US involved in the growing international market.