Too much ‘dilly dallying’ around ganja issue, says minister

BY BALFORD HENRY Senior staff reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, April 20, 2017

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AS the debate over the legalisation of ganja for medical use heats up, Minister of Science, Energy and Technology Dr Andrew Wheatley has thrown down the gauntlet to his colleagues to speed up the process.


Dr Wheatley told the House of Representatives Tuesday, as he made his contribution to the sectoral debate, that there was too much "dilly dallying" around the issue.


"We have to take a conscious decision where we want to go, as it relates to medical marijuana," he said.


"It is either that we support it or we are going to just sit by and let it pass by. We have to start leading from the front because we have a crop with significant medicinal nutraceutical value, which is lying idle because we are not serious in relation to the direction in which we would like to go with medical marijuana," the minister said.


Minister of Industry, Investment, Agriculture and Fisheries Karl Samuda also tackled the issue recently, criticising the inaction in dealing with the issue.


"Cannabis resides in my ministry and, notwithstanding anything you might have heard or read regarding the use of cannabis for the development of medicinal products, it is going to be a reality," Samuda told business leaders at an American Chamber of Commerce Breakfast Forum at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel, New Kingston, recently.


"We are going to vigorously promote the research necessary to create the products from cannabis, which is a highly scientific product, we are going to promote the development and use of that product in the interest of people in Jamaica who desperately need that product," he added.


The ruling Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) young professionals arm, Generation 2000 (G2K), also issued a release recently in which the organisation urged all Government ministries and agencies to work effectively together, "in building out a medical, therapeutic and scientific based cannabis industry, while promoting a strong and balanced public education campaign that outlines both the benefits and risks associated with the plant".


"After the amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act in 2015, thereby allowing for the development of an industry, no stone should be left unturned in ensuring that it be made a reality," G2K’s Vice-President Edson Z Carr stated.


He was supported by the organisation’s new president, Stephen Edwards, who was even more straightforward in his comments on the issue.


"No public official should be allowed to stand in the way of the industry’s careful development, and what was a manifesto-commitment by the ruling Jamaica Labour Party in the 2016 election campaign," he said.


"High-level public official(s) who are overwhelmingly resistant to the achievement of the Administration’s goals and objectives should come under immediate review," he added.


He said Page 36 of the party’s 2016 general election manifesto stated that, " the Jamaica Labour Party will make the worldwide market more aware of our revised local regime in respect of personal ganja use and medicinal marijuana availability.


"Development of medicinal marijuana is a large potential growth area both in terms of export potential, and as a draw for medical tourists," the manifesto added.


A former G2K president, cannabis reform advocate and Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA) director Delano Seiveright recently expressed concerns about Chief Medical Officer Dr Winston De La Haye’s role in the Government’s ganja policy.


Seiveright raised concerns about Dr De La Haye’s interpretation of the recent National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA) report on ganja/marijuana use in Jamaica, which led to both Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton and Dr De La Haye himself publicly defending their interpretation of the report.


"I am satisfied that the agencies and ministry personnel who have provided me with advice on this matter have done so based on sound data analysis and in the interest of public health," Tufton said, in a subsequent release issued by his ministry.


Said Seiveright: "It is disheartening that Jamaica that has such a powerful image in the ganja space, is being left to fall even further behind Israel, Germany, the Netherlands, Uruguay, Canada, the United States, Portugal, and other countries."


Dr Wheatley, however, showed that some work is being done in terms of ganja nutraceuticals during his sectoral debate speech.


He told the House Tuesday that, in terms of the standardisation of the national nutraceutical industry, a draft submission is in the final stages of preparation, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, and will be presented to Cabinet shortly to ensure that local enterprises involved in the manufacture of products characterised as nutraceuticals are monitored under an approved regulatory framework.


"It is important to note that the medicinal marijuana industry is in fact the production of ganja nutraceuticals. With the passing of the Dangerous Drug Act, 2015 my ministerial counterpart approved two R&D orders and, in my short term, before handing over to the CLA, I further granted and approved two orders for R&D," Wheatley said.


However, he noted that since the handing over nothing has happened and the development of the industry is at risk.


"I therefore intend to reinforce, under my ministry, the issuing of orders for R&D as a means of getting us back on track towards making medical marijuana the major industry it is touted to become," said Wheatley.


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