Barbados and other Caribbean countries are being encouraged to form partnerships to tap the lucrative medical cannabis industry.
At the same time, one industry expert is predicting that with Barbados having the highest consumption rate of cannabis per capita in the region, this could result in tremendous economic benefits for the country.
However, Dr Machel Emanuel, Teaching Assistant in the Department of Life Sciences at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, warned that developing the “right legislative framework” would be critical in how much the country benefits.
“We always say we need to understand the strengths and weaknesses, meaning that Belize and Guyana being mainland and having a history of producing stuff like sugar cane and rice on a very large scale, they could be more privy to growing hemp, whereas Jamaica and St Vincent and the Grenadines could grow the more psycho active component, and we have that indigenous knowledge to enhance that,” Emanuel told the May luncheon of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre on Wednesday under the theme Medical Marijuana: The Next Major Growth Sector.
“Whereas Trinidad being the more production and manufacturing hub with low energy consumption, they could focus more on manufacturing,” he added.
Emanuel, who has participated in extensive research on marijuana, told his captive audience that data recorded from the police force in the Windward Islands showed that cannabis contributed more to the domestic economy than bananas did.
“Barbados now being a country in the Caribbean that has the highest consumption rate per capita, which translates to the highest domestic value, meaning that cannabis fetches the highest price locally, higher than prices globally,” he added.
As such, he said, Barbados was in a unique position to develop “the right legislative framework to encapsulate that domestic consumption”, which would help to grow the island’s gross domestic product (GDP).
“So Barbados is very unique too because we can understand the cross linkages across the various sectors from agriculture to health, to wellness tourism, pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals, to really ensure that the sustainability can be maximized and really get the true earning potential from cannabis as a commodity,” he pointed out.
Government has already indicated that it was keen on building out a medical cannabis industry here, and recently added five cannabis-based prescription drugs to the drug formulary.
Emanuel said how regional governments strategise, develop and integrate a formal cannabis industry, should include the cultivation, processing, transportation and distribution of products.
He said it should also examine the historical and cultural experiences and how it would be marketed.
“So there needs to be an inter-disciplinary approach to understanding cannabis business within the region,” he added.
As a result, Emanuel said private and public sectors, and academia should partner to facilitate research and funding, which would “maximize” the region’s true earning potential.
Pointing to the different impacts and strains of weed, Emanuel warned that as Barbados looked to develop the industry, careful research and testing would be critical.
Past head of the National Council on Substance Abuse Tessa Chadderton-Shaw raised questions relating to prevention and risk reduction, suggesting that more focus seemed to be on the potential for economic investment and returns than the protection of the island’s future human resource, “our at-risk females and males and university students”.
However, while Emanuel said legislation and regulation of the industry would help in that regard, Founder and Executive Chairman of Medicanja Dr Henry Lowe said while he understood the concern “we have to move on”.
“Some people have been damaged, some will continue to be damaged, but it is when we create new opportunities . . . new insight and they realize they can do this legally and they understand the problems, you can eventually get people to go where we need them to go,” said Lowe, who is also one of the founding members of the National Council on Drug Abuse in Jamaica.
“We can’t dwell on that and destroy a potential that we have to do far more than anything else we have been focused on for a while,” he added, while pointing out that it will take government, private sector, academia and other stakeholders to provide the needed training, education, guidance and resources needed.