Trinidad and Tobago doesn't have to reinvent the wheel to decriminalise marijuana. It can, however, learn lessons from Jamaica, advocates Trinidadian businessman Douglas Gordon.
Gordon who founded CanEX Jamaica, a cannabis exposition some four years ago, has been leading the way in promoting the cannabis market and creating networking opportunities for investors.
"It’s a massive opportunity with so many people that need that sort of support, from a health perspective, and you are unlocking economic growth and potential for the people of the country,” he shared with Newsday.
Douglas was recently invited by the TT Chamber of Industry and Commerce to speak at a forum on the subject.
Government has been holding consultations on decriminalising marijuana and is due to discuss the issue with stakeholders in Tobago today.
Douglas believes TT should not take too long to become involved in the globally expanding cannabis market.
“What I do feel strongly about is, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. It’s something I believe you constantly have to prod because it’s a fast-moving industry."
Having worked in Jamaica, which has decriminalised marijuana and is already ahead in exploring its use as a medicine, Douglas said TT can benefit from its Caricom neighbour's experience.
"Jamaica has gone through the permutations. Jamaica has got tons of lessons to share, and if TT moves forward – TT is obviously its own sovereign state – but in this arena you can take what’s been there, learn from it, improve upon it, tweak it specific to this country and go from there."
To Douglas, what people are missing is that TT has an opportunity to provide people pain relief treatment for chronic insomnia, anxiety, and many different ailments, with something that is safe and effective.
“It is easy to get caught up in social arguments around, on whether people have been locked up unfairly and so on, but the reality of it is, I'd rather focus on how do we help more people? How do we get this medicine to an ageing TT population so they can understand how positive this is for their living experience? We talk about health and wellness all the time and here we have something that really delivers on it.”
At the TT Chamber forum, among the guests speakers were T'Shura Gibbs, who runs Zimmer & Co, a Montego Bay-based company that focuses on the distribution of health and wellness products, imported from North America and Europe, throughout the Caribbean; Dr Lorenzo Gordon, who is in charge of the medicinal cannabis unit in the Ministry of Health in Jamaica; and Jeanine Chin, who is with the Cannabis Licensing Authority in Jamaica.
“So you had regulatory, health, commercial, a sort of case study, an educational platform, so we really had a lot of different facets of the industry represented at the forum," said Gordon.
He added that those who attended had an interest in how the industry works and had a desire to get involved.
“They wanted to hear what the Jamaica experience is like to get a better sense of what they should expect from Trinidad, as the government puts infrastructure and a regulatory framework in place, and what should that look like.”
He then sought to explain the difference between tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), saying THC and CBD are different types of compound in the cannabis plant. THC has a psychoactive impact and the CBD-derived compound has none at all. According to Gordon, CBD is a pure health benefit.
“THC can help to enhance the effectiveness of CBD, so THC can also be very important in medicine. However, CBD without THC is also extremely effective. So for those people who don’t want to have any THC whatsoever, or very, very low levels of THC, they can use hemp-derived products, or products where only the CBD is being utilised in the final product, ” said Gordon.
“The fact of the matter is, we have a system in our body that is built for CBD receptors, and when we put CBD into our bodies, it kick-starts our body to healing itself and we have so many instances where we’ve helped people...that’s what motivates us through the course of the day.”
Gordon said much progress has been made since his CanEx initiative, which partners with Zimmer & Co to promote its products.
“We are putting products into pharmacies and doctors’ offices. We are getting doctors who were completely sceptical in the beginning saying to us...I don’t believe in this foolishness....and some of those same doctors (in Jamaica) have now come full circle and say, ‘Okay, the experience I’m having with my patients, I’ve completely shifted in my thinking.’”
Gordon said there are now close to 400 outlets in Jamaica selling Zimmer & Co's products in pharmacies and doctors’ offices.
He also said the company's products are imported because Jamaica doesn’t yet produce cannabis-based medicines. “It is now coming up through the growing and cultivating process. And then you have to get into extraction and then manufacturing. So what we are doing is we’ve basically gone to well-established companies that are producing products according to global standards and we are pushing those into the market place and educating doctors and patients. Then once Jamaica's infrastructure is in place, we will be able to produce in Jamaica under licence.”
Gordon's CanEx promotions is also in Latin America, and will be taken to Europe shortly, and the outfit is exploring opportunities in Africa.
The fourth annual CanEx Jamaica Business Conference and Expo takes place in Montego Bay from September 26-28.