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Jamaica is poised to be a global leader in the medical cannabis industry

This year’s Caribbean International Network (CIN) Lecture Series at the Schomburg Centre for Research in Black Culture in New York was delivered by Jamaica’s Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, Audley Shaw who is spearheading Jamaica’s charge to create a lucrative medical cannabis industry.

Jamaica’s Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, Audley Shaw

Below is his address in full:
By Audley Shaw

I am pleased to be here to share in the CIN Lecture Series with you this year. I am aware that this Lecture Series is in its 15thstaging and I am even more pleased to be here as I join the ranks of noted Jamaicans, such as former Prime Ministers the Most Hon. Edward Seaga, and the Hon. Bruce Golding as well as Dr. Peter Phillips and Jamaica’s noted cultural icon and scholar, the late Professor Rex Nettleford, among others, who have spoken at this prestigious annual event.

The CIN Lecture Series has also, over the years, become a staple among leaders, diplomats, scholars – a wide cross-section of attendees and viewers. For this, I extend hearty congratulations to the organizers for the continued growth of this event and salute the efforts of Stephen Hill and his team for making the CIN Lecture Series the success that it has grown to be.

“I wish to point out that tremendous strides have been made with  regard to the build-out of Jamaica’s cannabis sector. The government is committed to developing the industry in a holistic manner…”

– Jamaica’s Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, Audley Shaw

I want to focus my presentation today, on the developments in the Jamaican cannabis sector, looking specifically at how Jamaica is uniquely positioned to be a Global leader in the medical cannabis industry.  Jamaica is an international recognized brand and with the power of Reggae Music is now recognized as a major Cannabis Brand.   

Yes we have made great progress in recognizing the Rastafarian community ability to use Ganja as a sacrament and decriminalizing up to two ounces but our real focus as a country is developing true medical products which can bring health and wellness to the world.  

Minister Audley Shaw with guests of the CIN Lecture Series.

Development of Sector:

Firstly, I wish to point out that tremendous strides have been made with  regard to the build-out of Jamaica’s cannabis sector. The government is committed to developing the industry in a holistic manner which will redound to positive and impactful economic benefits to our local economy. 

In preparation for establishing the framework for a legal cannabis sector and to ensure the strategic growth and development of the sector, we established the Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA) in June 2016. The CLA was mandated to:

Minister Audley Shaw (centre) with guests of the CIN Lecture Series.

1.      Create regulations to guide the development of an orderly legal cannabis and medicinal hemp industry in Jamaica, for the use of the plant and its by-products for medical, therapeutic and scientific purposes.

2.      Ensure that regulations created and activities within the industry are in keeping with Jamaica’s international obligations. 

And

3.      Issue licences, permits and authorizations for the handling of medicinal hemp and cannabis. 

“Research over the years has documented the potential of cannabis to positively impact the treatment of a multitude of ailments including chronic pain, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder…”

– Jamaica’s Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, Audley Shaw

It must be noted that safety, quality, consistency and efficacy through standards are important foundations for our sector. We therefore spent the necessary time and expended the necessary resources to ensure a robust legal and regulatory framework on which to build Jamaica’s cannabis sector.

Compliance is paramount to preserving the integrity of this developing industry.

  Yes there is still a great deal of work to be done,no different from many other jurisdictions who are navigating this rapidly growing and evolving industry. 

As at September 30, 2019, the CLA has issued forty-seven (47) licences with an additional twelve (12) applicants set to make final arrangements for the granting of their licences.

Additionally, there are 250 more applications at the Conditional Approval stage.

Through the work of the CLA, we are also now in receipt of the first draft of the import/export regulations for cannabis for final review and discussion, which upon enactment, will give the CLA jurisdiction or the statutory authority to handle requests for import/export of inflorescence/flower and extract/resin.

“Jamaica is positioning itself to be a leader in clinical trials for pain and opiate reduction.  The opiate crisis is one of the greatest tragedies of modern medicine and…we are going to replicate many of these trials in Jamaica and use our existing universities and brilliant minds to help solve this problem.”

– Jamaica’s Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, Audley Shaw

This is a critical part of our strategy for the industry which is to export made in Jamaica value added products internationally.  We are working hard to ensure that Jamaica’s export regulations will meet international law requirements while satisfying the commercial realities of the industry. 

Standards-Driven Growth through Jamaica’s Bureau of Standards:

Work is also underway to create the standards and guidelines that will help the industry to protect consumers as well as assist companies with positioning their operations for export.  

As at September 30, 2019, the Cannabis Licensing Authority has issued forty-seven (47) licences with an additional twelve (12) applicants set to make final arrangements for the granting of their licences.

Our Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ) has completed consultations regarding the Draft Jamaican Code of Practice for Processing and Handling of Medical Cannabis Products and the Draft Jamaican Standard Guide for Packaging and Labelling of Resin Cannabis Products

As government, we are seized of the fact that we must take advantage of the opportunities for engagement at all levels of the cannabis value chain given the export potential and viable economic impact of the industry. These opportunities must however be leveraged within the scope of a safe and regulated industry even as we promote and attract investment

In this regard, we will be working closely with our Ministry of Health for the development of a range of approved medicinal products with cannabis as the base raw material.

“To contextualize the financial potential of the sector, the CLA reports that since issuing its first licence in October 2017, the legal cannabis industry has created 407 jobs for the Jamaican economy.”

– Agriculture Minister Audley Shaw

Opportunities for Jamaica’s Cannabis Industry:

The medical Cannabis Industry is helping to drive economic development in many countries.    Take for example right here in the United States where it is legal in most States but is still Federally illegal.  In the United States it is predicted to be a $24 billion industry in a few years.  Presently the cannabis industry in the United States provides employment for over 250,000 people. So the potential impact on global trade and contribution to real GDP is significant. 

In Jamaica we have taken the approach that the small farmers who have been part of the illegal trade should be given an opportunity to convert themselves to being a part of the legal industry. That is why I have personally pushed the Alternative Development program which has been launched with the Maroons to create and build out a model which can be legally compliant but allow for social and economic development of these communities.   So this is unique and a great opportunity  for anyone who would like to work with us in helping our small farmers.

However, research over the years has documented the potential of cannabis to positively impact the treatment of a multitude of ailments including chronic pain, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), HIV/AIDS, cancers, epilepsy, neurological disorders and many more. 

The scheduling of cannabis as a schedule 1 drug poses multiple challenges, including limiting research capabilities to fully ascertain the medicinal benefits of cannabis.

“Jamaica’s banking industry is intrinsically tied to that of the US through corresponding banking arrangements between local banks and those in the US.”

– Agriculture Minister Audley Shaw

Therefore, rescheduling of cannabis will not only open the doors for further research but also allow for formal education of medical practitioners in using quality-controlled cannabis and cannabis products to alleviate patients’ symptoms, allowing for more regulated use for those who need it most.

The relevance of the need to further formalize the Research and Development of medicinal cannabis is further proved necessary due to the virtual epidemic of death due to overdose of opioids. In the USA alone, over 50,000 deaths per year are ascribed to this epidemic.

Jamaica’s plant life is recognised as containing 50 per cent of plants known globally to contain medicinal properties – Audley Shaw

Jamaica is positioning itself to be a leader in clinical trials for pain and opiate reduction.  The opiate crisis is one of the greatest tragedies of modern medicine and with International leaders such as DR Yasmin Hurd who heads up research at Mount Sinai hospital in New York (who by the way is a Jamaican) we are going to replicate many of these trials in Jamaica and use our existing universities and brilliant minds to help solve this problem. 

This process is well advanced with partners such as Tree of Knowledge headed by the leading cannabis pain specialist in Canada Dr Kevin Rod leading the charge in bringing this expertise to Jamaica by entering into local partnerships.  

Tree of Knowledge International Corp. (Tree of Knowledge) is a Publicly Traded Canadian and United States company giving investors who sees the benefits of coming to Jamaica for advanced clinical research.   Tree of Knowledge will be introducing chronic pain management protocols and research into the Caribbean market.  The introduction of these protocols will take the form of clinical trials and research that will include the usage of specific strains of cannabis that aid in chronic pain and cancer treatments. 

A key facet in this partnership will be work with the indigenous communities in Jamaica to identify the above mentioned strains.  In addition, Tree of Knowledge and CIPPAR will work together to develop an international, state-of-the-art medical tourism facility in Jamaica to carry out clinical trials and provide pain management services.  The partnership will also create certification and training opportunities for Caribbean doctors, pharmacists, nurses and other medical professionals.

“Apart from the potential benefits of cancer management, there is also a pipeline of other therapies especially for Neurodegenerative Diseases including Parkinsons and Alzheimer’s being developed…”

“We welcome companies such as Tree of Knowledge who are committed to invest and transfer knowledge to our leading researchers in Jamaica on the reduction of opioids through cannabis.”

Correspondent Banking Issues:  

Jamaica’s banking industry is intrinsically tied to that of the US through corresponding banking arrangements between local banks and those in the US. For this reason, Jamaica’s legal cannabis industry is afflicted by correspondent banking issues. Local banks, being cautious, are hesitant to do business with players in the industry in order to protect their corresponding banking arrangements with banks in the United States. 

We work to ensure that we are fully compliant with our international banking partners especially the United States which is our strongest banking partner.

However, we acknowledge some important changes that have taken place in the USA over the recent past. I refer to the approval by the US Congress of the bill legalizing medicinal hemp with THC levels of minus 0.03 percent. In addition, we also acknowledge the recent passage by the Congress of the Safe Banking Act, which, once approved by the Senate, will legalize banking of cannabis companies within each state. 

The final step, which is now necessary, is to allow inter-state banking and international correspondent banking for legitimate licensed jurisdictions like Jamaica.

Opportunities for Jamaica’s Cannabis Sector:

To contextualize the financial potential of the sector, the CLA reports that since issuing its first licence in October 2017, the legal cannabis industry has created 407 jobs for the Jamaican economy. 

To date, 78 tripartite agreements have been signed among licensees. To effectively regulate the industry and remain compliant with international drug treaties ratified by Jamaica, the Authority operates a closed-loop system. This means licensees are only permitted to sell to other licensees (with the exception of retail herb-houses that sell to the public based on a medical recommendation or prescription for each individual purchaser). 

Jamaica Phytomedicine Institute:

Earlier this year, I attended the ‘The Global Health Catalyst Summit (GHC)’ under the theme ‘Collaborating to eliminate global health disparities.’ Discussions ensued between myself and the Harvard International Phytomedicines and Medical Cannabis Institute (IPI) sell out Team toward the creation of the Jamaica Phytomedicine Institute. 

The Harvard IPI Team subsequently visited Jamaica and engaged in an Informational Tour between September 30 to October 1 this year. The Team had an opportunity to look at some of the research already being conducted in Jamaica as it relates to Phytomedicine.

This partnership and development of the Jamaica Phytomedicine Institute, will provide the catalyst needed to position the cannabis industry for sustainable growth and development. 

The Harvard IPI partnership is proposed to deepen scientific research on medicinal plants found in Jamaica for economic development and has the potential to transform and diversify the Jamaican national economy. The partnership is therefore important to assist Jamaica in increasing its competitiveness in this global industry, given that 

Jamaica’s plant life is recognized as containing 50 percent of plants known globally to contain medicinal properties, with 33 percent of that number being unique to our island.  

While a definitive timeline for the establishment of the Jamaica Phytomedicine Institute has not yet been settled, we are currently discussing with our stakeholders, the design, roles and responsibility, and IP rights sharing, among other things. 

Jamaica as a part of the leadership of Phytomedicines:

It is against this background that I wish to identify our country, Jamaica as a part of the leadership of Phytomedicines. Reference must be made to the leadership of Dr Henry Lowe in this regard since he can claim to be among the global leadership of Phytomedicine based on the success and contributions of his group of companies.

The ground breaking pharmaceutical Research and Development in association with Harvard University, is at the high end of the product chain in the pharmaceuticals, and Dr Lowe and his team have demonstrated that they are involved on the cutting edge of science and clinical studies to demonstrate that cannabis can produce major cancer relief and possible cure, in a pipeline of cancer drugs being developed, which will not only bring treatment and possible cure to the millions of cancer sufferers but billions of US Dollars to Jamaica. 

The best examples are the FDA approved Leukemia (AML) Patent and Orphan Drug and the recently announced Patent Award and Orphan Drug designation for the cannabis-based drug “Caflanone”, for the treatment and potential cure for Pancreatic Cancer developed by Dr. Lowe and his team at Flavocure Biotech, Inc.

Apart from the potential benefits of cancer management, there is also a pipeline of other therapies especially for Neurodegenerative Diseases including Parkinsons and Alzheimer’s being developed and more will be said about these in the near future.

Jamaica Fully recognizes and appreciates not only the economic but the health and wellness potential of this miracle plant and remains steadfast on our mission to fully exploit this “greengold” in all aspect.  

Thank you