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Few Jamaicans in local ganja industry — Dr Lowe

Business reporter

Friday, September 08, 2017

There is a negative buzz surrounding the country's budding legal ganja industry. According to Dr Henry Lowe, owner of Medicanja, “It feels like our objective has been to prevent Jamaicans from getting into the business. It's all about what you can't do.”

Lowe was speaking at the recent medical ganja congress at The UWI about his experiences and challenges as a businessperson in the medical cannabis sector.

Having started his company four years ago, before the current onset of interest, he saw a great opportunity. Since then he has invested millions of dollars and developed 19 cannabis products, but only two have been able to move forward.

“Regulation is the most important issue.”

He believes there is a difference of opinion between the Ministry of Health and the Cannabis Licensing Authority concerning where each organisation's authority begins and ends.

“There needs to be better clarity between the Cannabis Licensing Board and the Ministry of Health,” he said.

“We are in confusion; we have to get our act together,” said Lowe. “A year or two ago we were saying what cannabis will do for Jamaica, but it's not gonna happen, not unless we get our act together very, very quickly.”

The high cost is also a barrier to entry for locals. “I want to see how many Jamaicans have gotten into medical cannabis. The answer is few, if any…Why? It's expensive, it's very expensive.”

In some cases, he argues, where there is a Jamaican player, they are simply the front for a foreign entity.

Despite the challenges, however, Lowe believes in the industry and wants to see it get to a higher level, and so he continues to invest. He is now moving towards pharmaceuticals — not just extracts or oils. In his opinion, in the next few years there will be no room for individuals doing simple extracting. Instead, the products will need to be of higher quality to compete on a global market.

“I realised that in three or four years there will be no future for those doing extracting by any means and making mixtures, and calling it medical ganja. Why? Because in another couple of years, when every country is going to liberalise and legalise, everyone will be doing what we will be doing, and market forces will take place — demand and supply.”

He emphasised that the business of the sector is difficult and requires support by other entities and investors.

“We reached out and said we need help because we are spending millions of US dollars, between my own money, resources,friends. I've been in to banks and said, “Just lend me some money to move to the next level, and people didn't talk to me. I said to a bank yesterday that if I came in and said I wanted to buy the most expensive Benz tomorrow, I'd walk out with the money the next day.”

But, in contrast, he has been welcomed by foreign investors.

“I've gone overseas and people embrace me,” Lowe said, adding “and it pains me to see that, because I am Jamaican, I'm proud of Jamaica and I feel good about being Jamaican.”

He also appealed for support in research and development. “If we do not get a fund set up by the public and private sectors to support research and development in small business, Jamaica has no future…”

“Who is listening? We have no resources, and sometimes you feel like you're wasting your time…”

“I really do believe that Jamaica is very blessed, and cannabis or ganja is one of several medicinal plants. We have got 52 per cent of all the recognised medicinal plants in the world. Where are we in exploiting this? That business alone — the medical plant business with nutraceuticals is worth US$0.5 trillion US dollars. We're not even scratching the surface. The cannabis business is worth US$150 billion globally. Where are we in this?” Lowe asked.