In her dispensary in Jamaica’s capital, Kingston, she sells cannabis ‘flower’ (the dried plant that is traditional, smokable cannabis), pre-rolled joints, vape pens and cannabis cartridges, as well as CBD oil and balm (CBD – a compound in cannabis – promotes relaxation and can reduce symptoms of anxiety, but unlike THC, the main psychoactive element of cannabis, it does not cause a ‘high’). She is also working on a range of wellness-focused cannabis teas, gummy sweets, lollies, chocolate bars and body oils.
She’s definitely picked the right time; last month, the United Nations reclassified cannabis, officially removing medical marijuana from its list of the most dangerous drugs, ‘in line with the scientific evidence of its therapeutic benefits’, a strong sign of changing attitudes. And it’s undeniably lucrative – the global legal cannabis market is predicted to be worth $74 billion by 2027.
Chong, 39, is likely nobody’s first idea of a cannabis entrepreneur (if they even have an idea of a cannabis entrepreneur). For a start, she’s female, in what has, over the short time in which cannabis has become a booming business – in those countries and US states that have legalised or decriminalised the drug, at least – become a male-dominated industry. She’s also a privately educated former professional tennis player and LSE law graduate, and no stranger to the society pages. Her British husband, photographer Jack Brockway, is Richard Branson’s nephew – their 2015 wedding was attended by Google founder Sergey Brin, while Brockway’s brother is married to Kate Winslet, and friends include Princess Eugenie.
Jacana also has the clout of Silicon Valley behind it, with investors including venture capitalist Bill Tai and former Microsoft marketing officer Mich Mathews-Spradlin. ‘This is not an easy industry to be in, because of its history of prohibition and the ongoing struggle for legitimacy, so it really helps when influential people, who understand the opportunity, back us,’ says Chong, who raised $20 million to found the firm.
We’re speaking on Zoom on a Tuesday morning, Chong from her office at the Jacana farm in Jamaica, whose white walls are covered with coloured Post-it notes. She takes her laptop to the window to show me the view: ominous clouds cluster above banana plants, with cannabis fields and tropical jungle beyond. The home she shares with Brockway, their two children, Isla, four, and Indiana, two, and several members of household staff, is close by, on the same street she grew up on in Ocho Rios.
The 100-acre farm is on a 100-year lease from old family friends. ‘I had to pitch to the whole family about starting this cannabis business on their property,’ she laughs. ‘Grandma, grandkids, aunts, uncles, everyone out on the family porch.’ The site encompasses not only the farm, which can grow and harvest up to 68,000kg of cannabis flower a year, but also a factory facility producing oils. Chong has plans to open six further dispensaries on the island within the next year.
Jamaica decriminalised the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use in 2015, making it possible to sell it legally for medical and ‘therapeutic’ purposes. So, along with those seeking relief from cancer-related pain or chronic arthritis, it’s also available for those wanting to reduce stress or improve their sleep. ‘Patients do have to have a doctor’s recommendation to be able to buy the products,’ says Chong. ‘In our store, you can FaceTime with a doctor and they can go through your medical history and recommend things.’ The doctors do not write product-specific prescriptions, or approve or turn down patients; their role is to offer guidance and information to help patients find the products best suited to their needs.