Five years on: The future of Jamaica’s ganja industry –Part 2
Jamaica has long been touted as the cannabis capital of the world, with a variety of strains of the herb being used to develop products such as drugs, cosmetics and foods. Yet, five years after the official launch of the local cannabis industry, stakeholders are highlighting consistent challenges to its long-term development.
Prominent researcher and CEO of Medicanja, Dr Henry Lowe, argues that the main challenge is simply due to misplaced priorities within the cannabis industry.
In an interview with The Sunday Gleaner, he explained, “From slavery time until now, we still believe that we should export our primary products. Now people process our primary products and get secondary and tertiary products, and that is where the real value added is. Too many persons are dependent on growing ganja as usual.”
In order for progress to be made in this regard, Dr Lowe pointed out that, “If we don’t get into the cosmeceuticals, nutraceuticals and the pharmaceuticals, we are wasting time. Everybody is now synthesising cannabis products such as CDB, THC and all of the cannabinoids in order to make them cheaper, than extracting them from the plant. So that is where the future is going.”
Having long been a pioneer in the field, he elaborates on a number of accomplishments that challenge the notion that Jamaica is not in a position to capitalise on the industry.
“We have sold products locally, exported overseas and have licensed other people to make said products. Things I have made include perfumes and lipsticks. We have a lot of these products and it is attracting a lot of attention. Nutraceuticals are the products that can be used as food and we have done quite a lot of those, including instant porridges, and so on. This demonstrates to Jamaica and the world that we can move to secondary and tertiary products,” Lowe noted.
However, his vision for the industry has gone even bigger.
“We are now leaders on the world stage demonstrating what we can do and how we can do it going forward. We have developed some drugs to treat COVID-19, which will start clinical trials in another three to four weeks. Then we have another company, called Lothera, which focuses on neurogenerative diseases like Parkinson’s. So, what we have here and what we have developed is a treasure chest of pharmaceuticals for the future,” Dr Lowe stressed.
Unfortunately, lingering challenges continue to hinder the industry. For instance, he outlines, “You are not getting any support from the government or a lot of our commercial people because most of them only think about buying and selling. Nobody wants to invest in research and development, which is really where we need to go.”
CHARTING OUR OWN WAY
These frustrations have also been acknowledged by cannabis researcher Dr Elaine Campbell-Grizzle, who laments that lack of funding has inhibited the University of Technology from investing in fields of interest.
“We have the skills to do it, we just don’t have the resources to do it, so we are reliant on overseas investors. When they come, they are commissioning the work so they are focusing on the areas that they are interested in. So there are areas we would like to research, such as sickle- cell disease, that will benefit Jamaican people, but we are not being commissioned to do such work,” Campbell-Grizzle highlighted.
This need for research is also being emphasised by Dr Lorenzo Gordon, vice-dean of the Caribbean School of Medical Sciences, Jamaica.
“There is enough evidence to show that the cannabis plant has medicinal values, but you need to allow the scientists to do studies, to produce enough information for the scientific community,” he stated.
Increasing this body of information, Gordon argues, will go a long way in convincing overseas regulators, such as the United States, to relax certain restrictions on the cannabis industry.
Dr Lowe suggests that in order to remedy the situation, a stakeholder review is needed and urgent action must be taken in the next three to four months in order to chart a new direction.
“I believe in the past we depended entirely on overseas to tell us what we need to do and how to do it without understanding that many of them were actually looking at their own interests,” said Lowe.
“We have some years of experience now. We should be charting our own way forward. Everything needs a quick review if we are going to survive and move forward with this. Growing ganja is not the only thing, you can make products and you can create wealth.”
[Part 3 will focus on Jamaica’s competitors in the region and the progress made by other Caribbean countries in the establishment of their local cannabis industry.]