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Dr Albert Lue: Medical Marijuana, the Way to Go

Published:Thursday | April 9, 2015 | 12:00 AMDr Albert Lue

For the past decades, Jamaica has been in a downward economic spiral and the trend continues year after year. Looking back 30 years, real per capita GDP averaged only one per cent, making Jamaica one of the slowest-growing developing countries in the world.

We are at a debt-to-GDP ratio of 138.9 per cent, ranking us among the highest in the world. The national unemployment rate of Jamaica is 13.4 per cent compared to 5.5 per cent in the US. Unemployment among the youth is twice the national rate, according to the latest World Bank report. The poverty rate has increased by eight per cent in a few years.

The GDP growth rate for Jamaica is -1.8 per cent in the last quarter of 2014 compared to +2.2 per cent in the USA in the same period. This is close to the 10-year low of -1.9 per cent. The austerity measures imposed by the IMF are seriously affecting many essential services; especially health, education and social services.

We need to get out of this depressing economic hole which we have fallen into.

Looking around at the traditional catalysts for economic growth, such as meaningful foreign-direct investment, there is nothing on the horizon for Jamaica. To date, we have completed only six of the 16 reviews of the IMF programme. There are 10 more to go!

With all that said, what can we do? What is the way forward? If we continue doing the same thing year after year we will forever get the same result - exactly as outlined above!

We need new sources of revenue.

Top among this list is one of our main natural resources: marijuana.

It's full time we legalise medical marijuana for export and research purposes. I applaud California, Washington, Alaska, Oregon, Maine and Colorado, and also Uruguay for their initiative. With proper planning, strict regulation and a transparent management system the world could benefit from our brand of marijuana (marihuana in Canada).

In a nutshell, this is how I envisage the marijuana industry in Jamaica:

1. Make sure the small farmers benefit directly.

Recall the days when the 'milk truck' picked up vats of fresh cow's milk from small dairy farmers, or when the 'chocolate truck' picked up kegs of cocoa beans islandwide. The same can be done for marijuana farmers.

2. Sixty to 80 per cent of the earnings from the industry must be for national development. Farmers, packers and exporters share the remaining 20 to 40 per cent. With international sales, transactions will involve the participation of specially trained government officials on a rotational basis.

3. The legalisation of this plant for export and medical use is neither for the aggrandisation of the top investors of this country nor for any foreign concerns. It should be reserved for the little people of Jamaica. A legal framework should be formulated to achieve this end. The bulk of the foreign exchange earned from this enterprise will, therefore, remain in Jamaica and will be placed in a special fund and under the management of a carefully selected committee that will ensure transparency and frequent publishing of income and expenditure accounts for perusal by the people of Jamaica.

In summary the legalisation of medical marijuana for export will help to restore self-sustaining and job-creating growth. It will certainly alleviate urgent short-term economic and social issues, such as the high levels of crime and violence. Education and health would also benefit tremendously. Let's not delay any longer.

- Dr Albert Lue F.R.C.S.(Edin) is a consultant ophthalmologist at the Kingston Public Hospital. Email feedback to