Grower Stories #72: Alexandra Chong
The Land of Weed and Water: An Interview With Premium Medical Cannabis Brand JACANA Founder Alexandra Chong
Born and bred in Jamaica, a nation whose history with cannabis is as deep and culturally intertwined as it gets, JACANA is a medical cannabis brand that takes pride in its origins. The first company to take the historic step of exporting Jamaican medical cannabis flower internationally, JACANA is a brand dedicated to the betterment of medical cannabis patients everywhere. AskGrowers sat down with Alexandra Chong, the founder of JACANA, to learn a bit more about her, the brand, and what’s next for them.
Growing up in Jamaica, I saw first hand how cannabis was used for a wide variety of medical and therapeutic benefits. After my first business was acquired, I was completing investment due diligence on early stage cannabis investment opportunities across North America. As I toured these impressive facilities, a realisation struck me. Here was a variety of indoor and greenhouse facilities being built in countries where cannabis had never existed in the past, yet my home nation had ideal outdoor conditions for the production of cannabis. Jamaica possesses the perfect combination of human capital, climate and consumer association when it comes to cannabis. And the idea of JACANA started from this point.
Tia (AskGrowers): What is the ultimate goal of the company? Both short and long-term goals?
Alexandra Chong : Our ultimate vision is for JACANA to be THE Jamaican cannabis brand of the world. Jamaica has a unique position in the cannabis world, and we aim to pioneer that through the finest Jamaican cannabis.
Our focus is being the leading Jamaican cannabis brand both domestically and internationally.
In the short-term we are focused on three key markets:
- The Jamaican Market: Expanding our retail footprint in a burgeoning domestic market
- Germany: Entering the medical market in the coming months
- US: Entering the US through CBD initially, and then through cannabis as regulations liberalise
Tia : In your opinion, why has Jamaica been associated with cannabis? Is it all thanks to Bob Marley? Or is it more of an overall cultural thing?
Alexandra : While Bob Marley may be perceived as the symbol of Jamaica’s long-standing consumer association with cannabis, the reality is that the use of cannabis has been widespread in Jamaica for generations and it is a disservice to the culture of Rastafarianism. Bob Marley was simply an influential global figurehead and representation of Rasta ideology. Ganja is referred to as a sacramental herb and the usage of it is spiritual as opposed to recreational. You’ll find that even in more conservative countries like Italy, it is legal for Rastafarians to use cannabis due to its sacred use within the religion.
Tia : Are there strains unique to Jamaica?
Alexandra : Cannabis production has endured during times of prohibition and Jamaica has played a significant role in the illicit market supply chain. The silver lining to this is that cannabis production has never stopped, and the country possesses a wide variety of landrace genetics, the most famous being Lambs Bread which was Bob Marley’s favourite strain. We have a suite of proprietary genetics that we develop with authentic Jamaican lineage, which give us the benefit of benign adapted to our environmental and climatic conditions. These also give us a true point of difference to the end consumer in what we are growing for them.
Tia : What does the current Jamaican cannabis market look like? Are there strong competitors targeting local consumers?
Alexandra : The Jamaican cannabis market is growing rapidly thanks to a supportive and liberalised framework. There are over 15 dispensaries across the island, however, a large portion of the demand still operates in the casual and illicit markets.
Tia : Do you agree with a sentiment that women in canna-business find it harder to enter the market and promote their brand than men?
Alexandra : Not necessarily, it depends on the target cannabis consumer. While the traditional cannabis consumer is male-skewed, the new and emerging generations of cannabis require a different approach. The beauty of cannabis is that there are so many different consumer types that exist due to the multi-faceted nature of the plant and its compounds.
Tia : Which countries do you currently sell your THC products to and which countries do you believe will soon enter the list of potential buyers?
Alexandra : Our THC products are currently available in Jamaica, and will soon be available in Germany through medical channels.
Tia : What does the international THC market look like?
Alexandra : Fragmented and made up of individual country by country regulations. Each country has its own set of regulatory requirements, and it will be some time before these start to harmonise. For us at JACANA, the most interesting international markets are Germany, Israel & Australia. Canada is inaccessible to foreign cannabis companies due to protectionist policies preventing commercial imports of cannabis from non-Canadian companies.
Tia : Who usually approves all the flavors/designs of the production?
Alexandra : A number of teams are involved across production, R&D, QA, manufacturing, sales & marketing. Multiple QC checks are required by regulation, while sensory programs are ran across all products to ensure a wide representation of consumer feedback on the final products.
Tia : Your brand, JACANA, is an international brand! Can you speak on the difficulties of growing and establishing a brand like yours?
Alexandra : Cannabis itself comes with many restrictions due to the nature of the product and the stigma of past generations. However, we are fortunate to be in a market (Jamaica) whereby there are less restrictions around branding and marketing. We focus on delivering a first class customer experience so that our customers turn into our biggest brand advocates.
Tia : What’s your key to success? How exactly do you differ from other brands similar to yours?
Alexandra : Authenticity to a brand’s vision and values are critical.
Tia : Are there any brands you appreciate and follow in your country?
Alexandra : Appleton’s is one of the pre-eminent Jamaican brands of the world.
Tia : Have you considered opening a farm/production in the U.S.? Or would you rather wait for the U.S. to lift the restrictions on cannabis trade (import) sometime in the foreseeable future?
Alexandra : Not at present, however we are closely watching US political developments with an expectation of cannabis descheduling in the near term.
Tia : Do you feel that growers/ manufacturers who do not consume cannabis themselves can produce great products? Do you consume cannabis yourself?
Alexandra : It is harder but not impossible for a grower/manufacturer to create great products. Quantitative and qualitative analysis both matter when producing cannabis. Consuming can make it easier, but is qualitative and based on your body’s own endocannabinoid system.
Tia : Do you plan to implement a new production line in the future?
Alexandra : We are always working on new products. We’ve recently launched our CBD portfolio with Organic CBD Oil and an Organic CBD Balm. More products are on their way soon, watch this space!
You can follow JACANA at:
Thank you so much, Alexandra, for taking the time to do the interview. To learn more about JACANA, head on over to their website.