Sunday, April 30, 2017

Letter to the Editor

Image result for Guyana hemp
Dear Editor,
Upon entering office, President Granger quite rightly prioritized the “green economy.”  While some effort has been made towards promoting the “green economy”, the “black economy” (crude oil production) seems to be getting “significantly” more buzz, more priority.  This letter seeks to highlight one possible avenue for moving towards the highly touted “green economy.”  In what follows, I offer my non-expert opinion on the issue of producing industrial hemp in Guyana.

  1. Hemp and marijuana are part of the cannabis family of plants. Industrial hemp is produced in several countries, such as China and Canada.  Regulations in the EU and Canada require that the hemp flowers contain no more than 0.3% of the cannabinoid compound Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC for short. There are more than 60 types of cannabinoids. Tetrahydrocannabinol is the most popular, and is the compound which causes the “high” a person gets from marijuana.  Marijuana contains upwards of 3% of THC. The other notable cannabinoid is Cannabidiol (CBD).  There’s more CBD in hemp than in marijuana.  Therefore, while hemp and marijuana are “cousins,” hemp does not make the user “high” unless a ridiculous amount of it is used.
  2. The legal environment in Guyana presents the biggest stumbling block to the production of industrial hemp. In Guyana, marijuana and hemp are conflated under the “legal banner” of narcotics. On the contrary, the UN 1961 Drug Convention does not regard industrial hemp as a narcotic. To be sure, Article 28 of The Convention is clear that, “The Convention shall not apply to the cultivation of the cannabis plant exclusively for industrial purposes (fiber and seed) or horticultural purposes.” Therefore, in my non-expert opinion, a good place to start would be to adjust the law to clearly delineate what constitutes industrial hemp and what constitutes a narcotic.
  3. Regulating the production of industrial hemp will require more work than changing the legislation, but need not be overly difficult. For example, contrary to the opinion of some, it would not be optimal to plant marijuana and hemp together as hemp would undermine the THC quality of the marijuana plants. Naturally, regulators would have to ensure that the THC content of the hemp is not above the prescribed level. Given the pervasive culture of corruption in Guyana, regulation could prove problematic. However, incentives promoting self-regulation by industry players could complement regulation by the authorities, and thereby mitigate against improper and illegal practices.
  4. Hemp production is still effectively illegal in the US. In 2014, Mr. Obama signed the 2014 Farm Bill allowing for the production of industrial hemp, for “research purposes,” either by universities or state departments of agriculture.
  5. Hemp can be used to produce several products, such as, paper (pages are longer lasting and less likely to yellow over time); fuel; construction material (e.g. Hempcrete which has been touted as flame, water, and pest resistant); clothing; cosmetics etc. The development of the industrial hemp industry is one possible way for us to counter the likely effects of Dutch Disease.
  6. Dr. Kadamawe Knife (UWI-Mona), has suggested, ad nauseam, that the production of both marijuana and hemp can give a boost to the Caribbean regional integration movement through the specialization and coordination of the production of marijuana and hemp products. For example, Guyana could focus on the production of hemp given the availability and topography of the land.  Countries such as Jamaica could focus on the production of marijuana. He has suggested that “mined out” lands in Guyana could be reafforested through the planting of hemp.  Indeed, hemp is known to be an excellent plant for replenishing the soil. Proponents of industrial hemp often also note the decontaminating properties of the plant. For example, hemp has been planted within the environs of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.  Hemp also has more biomass than sugar cane and corn, making it an excellent source for producing ethanol.
  7. It must be made clear that Dr. Knife’s view on the production of marijuana and hemp is not narrow. Rather, it is situated in a broader proposition which centres on food production in general. In the article “The economics of marijuana” (SN March 8th, 2014), Dr. Knife is reported to have given a lecture in Guyana where he not only advocated for the production of hemp, but also the production of coconuts. Indeed, both hemp and coconuts are not “relatively” susceptible to bad weather and therefore present sustainable long term products.  Additionally, relative to other plants, hemp has a lower chance of being affected by pests.
  8. In October of 2016 the group, Guyana Hemp Association (GHA), submitted a petition to the Parliament of Guyana seeking the legalisation of industrial hemp. In response to the GHA’s efforts, the Minister of Business, Mr. Gaskin, is reported to have shown interest in Guyana moving towards the production of industrial hemp. He stressed the need for a change in the Laws of Guyana, and expressed concern for the necessary regulation of industrial hemp production.  I’m not sure where on his ministry’s list of priorities the sector rests.  For the record, I’m in no way affiliated to the GHA and its principals.
  9. The foregoing notwithstanding, the current estimated value of the global industrial hemp industry is just under US$1 billion. To illustrate how small the global industry currently is, note that Guyana’s total exports is about 1.5 times that figure. Put differently, the value of the global hemp industry is 0.02 % of the total value of global trade. Annual hemp exports to the US accounts for about half of the total global value. If Guyana were to get into the industry in the near future, it’s reasonable to assume that the country can capture no more than say 1% of the global value. This amounts to approximately US$ 10 million. This figure amounts to approximately 10% of Guyana’s 2015 sugar exports, and 4% of Guyana’s 2015 rice exports. Naturally, the small size of the industry is representative of the decades of deliberate undermining of industrial hemp for other products. The global shift towards industrial hemp, however, presents an opportunity for rapid expansion of the industry.  Further, the environmental benefits, and the myriad uses of industrial hemp, provide benefits which are not easily placed into dollars and cents.
In closing, it is my hope that we will emancipate ourselves from the mental slavery which continues to retard the development of our country and region, and perpetuates the demonization of an entire plant family.  Let’s continue the dialogue. Let’s advance the research. Let’s remove the legal hindrances. Let’s educate ourselves.  Let’s emancipate ourselves from mental slavery.
Yours faithfully,
Samuel Braithwaite
The UWI (Mona)

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