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Ganja alert!

Pioneer of weed-based drug says Jamaica could lose out to large foreign corporations

BY DESMOND ALLEN Executive editor — special assignment allend@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, April 24, 2014    

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ONE of the first two Jamaicans to get Government approval to study ganja for medicinal purposes yesterday urged Jamaica not to give away its ganja-production rights to large foreign corporations.

Dr Albert Lockhart who, with the late Dr Manley West of the University of the West Indies (UWI), pioneered and developed Canasol, the cannabis-based drug that treats the common eye disease glaucoma, said he expected large corporations to seek to develop major ganja-production operations here after marijuana is decriminalised.

"What I am saying, if anyone is listening, is let the production of ganja remain in the hands of the communities as it is now," Lockhart said in an interview with the Jamaica Observer.

West and Lockhart, a veteran opthalmologist who operates his Glaucoma Centre out of Lee's Optical at Paisley Avenue near Cross Roads in St Andrew, got permission from then Health Minister Dr Ken McNeill to collect, transport and study ganja for medicinal purposes, after they presented compelling arguments before a committee of Parliament in 1972.

Four years later they came up with Canasol, which became a hit with patients and doctors because it reduced dangerous eye (intraoccular) pressure without the side effects associated with previous drugs. Lockhart counts patients in Spain, Italy, France, Canada and all across the United States, besides Jamaica. In the 1990s they scored another big breakthrough with Asmasol for the treatment of asthma.

Lockhart said Jamaica needed to make haste in decriminalising ganja as the country was now in danger of being left behind by the rest of the world despite having the best brand of the weed.

A rapidly growing number of American states, led by Colorado and Washington, have moved to decriminalise or legalise marijuana, to take advantage of its medicial qualities.

"We won't be the largest producer, but we can be the producer of the best quality ganja. However, we could find ourself importing ganja and ganja products in the future if we don't move quickly," Lockhart cautioned.

A Ganja Future Growers and Producers Association has been formed by the Cannabis Commercial and Medical Research Task Force to spearhead an estimated billion-dollar cannabis industry, but the required legislative changes have lagged behind. Science Minister Phillip Paulwell has promised decriminalisation could come as early as June this year.

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