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Jamaica’s government wants to talk to Trump about marijuana

Richard Vogel/Associated Press/File/Associated Press

Jamaica’s trade minister wants to export medical marijuana around the world. He says the United States is standing in his way.

The Caribbean country is finalizing export regulations for its burgeoning cannabis industry, which has attracted investments from large Canadian companies, including Canopy Growth Corp. and Aphria Inc.

Its goal is to export home-grown marijuana to countries like Germany and Australia that allow imports of medical cannabis, according to Audley Shaw, Jamaica’s minister of industry, commerce, agriculture and fisheries.

But there’s one problem: Jamaica’s banking system is “inextricably linked” to America’s, which is restricted in how it can work with the cannabis industry because the drug remains illegal at the federal level.


“It’s really a roadblock, no other word for it, it’s a major roadblock in the advancement of medicinal cannabis,” Shaw said in an interview at Bloomberg’s New York office Wednesday.

He’s particularly passionate about marijuana’s potential to reduce opioid addiction rates, and is hoping to bring his message all the way to President Trump.

“The gravity of this situation requires the highest level of focus,” he said.

The US House of Representatives recently passed the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act, which would allow banks to do business with cannabis companies that are compliant with state laws. However, the legislation wouldn’t allow for country-to-country or correspondent banking, leaving Jamaica’s exporters in the lurch.

“The more I submerge myself into this thing, I realize how critically important it is to get all the players into an urgent, massive lobbying effort,” Shaw said.

Jamaica, which has long been associated with marijuana through the music of Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, decriminalized possession of small amounts in 2015, and has gradually opened up a legal medical market. The country has granted approximately 50 medical cannabis licenses and is working on a pilot project to bring more small farmers into the industry.


While there’s domestic demand from locals and tourists, exports will be “absolutely vital for the growth of the industry,” Shaw said.

He questioned why the United States would allow Canadian cannabis companies like Canopy, Tilray Inc., Aurora Cannabis Inc., and others to list on its stock exchanges while prohibiting country-to-country banking.

“Can somebody explain to me how a cannabis company is listed on the stock exchange but there’s an issue of correspondent banking?” Shaw said. “It needs to be straightened out, and fast.”

The New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq will list cannabis companies as long as they’re compliant with federal laws where they operate, and none of those companies have cannabis operations in the United States. The exchanges are likely to begin listing so-called “plant-touching” US companies if the SAFE Banking Act becomes law.