Jamaica looks to slash cannabis license processing time, but banking remains major obstacle

Jamaican regulators want to substantially reduce the amount of time it takes entrepreneurs to get a cannabis business license, but banking remains the biggest hurdle to the fledgling industry’s growth.

The Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA) is in the final stages of a technical review of the entire licensing process.

“We’re doing a complete internal review on all of the steps we take in finalizing a licensee, approving the license,” said Floyd Green, minister of Industry, Commerce and Agriculture.

“We really want to be able to say that it should take a maximum of six months to get your license in Jamaica.”

It currently can take up to two years for an applicant to become “conditionally approved,” a situation that has contributed to a backlog of 233 applications at that stage, according to the most recent data.

After receiving that conditional approval, an applicant can wait nine more months before having a license in hand.

Courtney Betty, CEO of Timeless Herbal Care in Kingston, told Marijuana Business Daily that streamlining Jamaica’s cannabis licensing process would be a major step forward for the industry.

“If we’re able to get to a point where the applications can be finalized in six months, that would be a major breakthrough,” he said.

Betty hopes the CLA can address the backlog of pending licensees next.

Wayne Isaacs, CEO of Green Stripe Naturals, said the CLA is doing well with its limited resources, but as an investor/operator, he’d like to see the licensing process shortened.

“The industry in Jamaica would certainly benefit from shortened application processing times as it would attract more international investors,” said Isaacs, whose company has a head office in Vancouver, Canada, but does business in Jamaica.

If Jamaica commits to a six-month turnaround for applications, Isaacs expects that would drive additional foreign investments into the country’s burgeoning medical marijuana industry.

Less red tape would make Jamaica more competitive versus other Caribbean countries for cannabis-business investments.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines as well as Antigua and Barbuda have already completed detailed cannabis regulations.

Laws are in the works in Saint Kitts and Nevis and Barbados.

The number of cannabis business licenses issued in Jamaica rose from 40 at the end of July to 47 by the end of September.

Another 12 licenses have been granted, which means fees must be paid before those companies are issued their permits.

By category, Jamaica has issued:

  • 22 licenses for cultivation.
  • 14 licenses to retailers.
  • Six to processors.
  • Four for research and development.
  • One for transport.

Applicants can’t get a bank account

Hyacinth Lightbourne, chair of the Cannabis Licensing Authority, said banking remains one of the biggest obstacles facing cannabis businesses.

Speaking at a Parliamentary Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) meeting this week, she said none of the 233 applicants can get a bank account.

“The truth is that (banking) is one of the major reasons why we cannot move forward in this country,” she said at the hearing. “The only industry that operates without a banking system and flourishes is an illegal one.”

Banks in Jamaica are refusing transactions from legal cannabis businesses to protect their correspondent arrangements with the United States, where cannabis remains federally illegal.

“With the risk of losing their correspondent banking, (Jamaica’s banks) will not touch it,” Lightbourne said.

She also said it took nearly a year for the government’s cannabis regulatory agency to get a bank account.

“The CLA couldn’t get a bank account for nearly a year, and we are a regulator,” Lightbourne said.

“I have an individual who is building a processing facility for which the bank of the contractor won’t cash the check,” she said at the committee meeting.

“I have an individual who has foreign investors who, because they can’t wire the money into the country, have to fly people in with an under amount (of legally undeclared cash) in order to get it in.

“It is a real-life problem.”

Matt Lamers can be reached at [email protected]

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