Fair(er) Trade Options for the Cannabis Market

Martin Jelsma, Sylvia Kay & David Bewley-Taylor
Cannabis Innovate
Policy Report 1, March 2019

Policy changes over the past five years or so have dramatically reshaped the global cannabis market. Not only has there been an unprecedented boom in medical markets, but following policy shifts in several jurisdictions a growing number of countries are also preparing for legal regulation of non-medical use. Such moves look set to bring a clear range of benefits in terms of health and human rights. As this groundbreaking Report, highlights, however, there are also serious concerns about the unfolding market dynamics.

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Many for-profit cannabis companies from the Global North are aggressively competing to capture the licit spaces now rapidly opening in the multi-billion-dollar global cannabis market. This threatens to push small-scale and marginalized traditional farmers from many countries in the Global South out of the emerging legal market. It is argued here by Martin Jelsma, Sylvia Kay and David Bewley-Taylor that there should be no reason why, using carefully designed regulatory frameworks, small-scale farmers cannot work in mutually beneficial partnership with or alongside large companies. This might be achieved through a fair(er) trade cannabis model built around a rights-based, inclusive and environmentally sustainable approach to market engagement.

Mindful of the intricate, cross-cutting and complex nature of the commercial and legal environment, Fair(er) Trade Options for the Cannabis Market proposes a set of interconnecting frameworks through which to better understand the issue and concludes with a set of guiding principles upon which a fair(er) trade cannabis model might be built.

KEY POINTS

• Policy changes over the past five years or so have dramatically reshaped the global cannabis market - both medical and non-medical - and look set to bring a cle ar range of benefits in terms of health and human rights.

• Serious concerns, however, are growing about the unfolding market dynamics, particularly the activities of many for-profit cannabis companies from the Global North and the threatened exclusion of small-scale and marginalised farmers from traditional cannabis producer countries in the Global South.

• Despite some efforts to assist small-scale cannabis farmers to transition out of illegality, many barriers still exist to entering the licit market

• A fair(er) trade cannabis model, built around a rights-based, inclusive and environmentally sustainable approach to market engagement, offers a promising way forward.

• Carefully designed regulatory frameworks would not only allow small-scale farmers to work in mutually beneficial partnership or alongside large companies but could also contribute to achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in those parts of the world where ending poverty remains a pressing concern and to fulfilment of the promise to ‘leave no one behind’.

• The development of fair(er) trade cannabis markets requires a different approach and the consideration of a range of interconnected producer, quality and standards, consumer/end-user and market, finance and trade policy frameworks.

• While the rapidly expanding legal cannabis market and associated political, legislative and commercial landscapes remain complex and fluid, it is possible to develop a set of guiding principles on which a fair(er) trade cannabis model can be built. These include:

1. Demonstrate a commitment to solidarity and social justice, with initiatives going beyond pure profit and business making opportunities to integrate ethical concerns as a foundational part of the operation. This includes granting preferential access to small producers who have been involved in supplying the illicit market and the expungement of their criminal records.

2. Centre on producer empowerment and community benefit sharing through more equitable terms of trade. In this model, producers are not just seen as providers of raw materials but as value creators.

3. Use production methods that adhere to strong environmental sustainability standards in relation to the use of energy, water, and agricultural inputs.

4. Put in place proper labour protections to ensure worker safety, health, and satisfaction.

5. Encourage more democratic control, participation and decision-making processes, through inclusive business models and systems of worker driven social responsibility.

6. Generate transparency and traceability in the operation of the cannabis market and supply chain.

7. Focus on longer-term strategies, opening up access for cannabis producers from marginalised communities who are transitioning out of illegality and considering restorative justice for those previously excluded or criminalised.

8. Resonate with the social history of a particular place, foregrounding traditional growing communities and the role of cannabis in their cultural and religious identities and practices.