Ganja is among several crops that have been added to a list of agricultural produce for which praedial thieves can be prosecuted.
The other crops are hemp, bamboo and castor bean.
The announcement was made on Tuesday by JC Hutchinson, the Minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries. Hutchinson was making his contribution to the Sectoral Debate in the House of Representatives.
“Praedial larceny is one of the main deterrents to persons interested in entering the agricultural sector,” said Hutchinson, who is himself a farmer.
“We will soon be bringing to Cabinet, the Agricultural Produce Act which will see the fines for anyone convicted (of praedial larceny) increased to a maximum of $3 million or six months in prison at hard labour."
Hutchinson said there will be restitution where farmers will be reimbursed for their loss.
“This will be in addition to the fine imposed by the court,” he said.
The minister also said farmers will be using invoice books to complement the current receipt books they use when selling their produce. The receipts are issued so persons who make purchases can, if stopped by the police, furnish proof that they made a legitimate purchase. It was introduced years ago to help combat praedial larceny.
However, Hutchinson said it had become necessary to also issue an invoice as often times the produce is sold on credit. He said the farmer needs to be able to detail the sale while protecting himself.
Meanwhile, Hutchinson, not withstanding his ministerial status, appealed for the removal of General Consumption Tax (GCT) from certain inputs and equipment used by farmers. These include seeds, forks, hoes and refrigerated trucks.
"We have to take GCT off of these seeds,” he said to applause.
Meanwhile, the minister said there are genuine concerns that have been raised by growers in the cannabis industry about the production of hemp and possible contamination of their fields. He said the ministry has a technical team in place that was researching the possibility of these two crops co-existing without detriment to one another by pollination issues.
Hutchinson noted that hemp is a versatile, legally-grown crop with the potential to provide many value added products, with the demand for its oil growing rapidly in other countries.
In the meantime, he said there were big plans for the fledgling bamboo industry. He said available figures show that, over the last two years, roughly $65 million has been invested in the sector. He said a St Catherine-based company, Eco Pulp and Paper Limited has indicated that it will be providing 200 direct jobs in its factory and another 300 to be employed indirectly in the fields, in transportation as well as in sales of the finished product.
Another company, Caribbean Bamboo Pulp and Paper Limited will be investing some $26 billion over two years in Long Pond, Trelawny. Hutchinson said the company will plant 30 per cent of the bamboo it will use in its production and will purchase the remaining 70 per cent from local farmers.
What's more, another bamboo project is slated for Friendship, Hanover as a joint venture involving the ministry, the Bamboo Industry Association of Jamaica and the Chinese Embassy to develop a commercial demonstration facility for the production of bamboo products to replace plastics and Styrofoam.