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08/21/2013

New high for Ganja: medical tourism to Jamaica?

Like its sun and sand, Jamaica’s ganja – the potent local variety of marijuana – has always been a popular attraction for tourists.

Now a prominent medical researcher from the Caribbean island thinks the time is right for what he calls “health tourism” and for his country to host an international center for medical marijuana research.

Dr. Henry Lowe, the author of the book “Ganja–The Jamaican Connection” and a adjunct professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in the US, made the proposal on NPR’s influential global radio program The World.

He also echoed his idea in the local press, telling the The Sunday Gleaner in Jamaica: "While ganja, in my view, is not the all-embracing medication that some people have advocated, it has some definite medicinal qualities.”

Lowe was jumping on a recent headline-making apology by Doctor Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, who came out strongly endorsing medical marijuana after years of opposing it.

 “I think we’ve been terribly and systematically misled in this country for some time and I was part of that misleading but you know I didn’t look deep enough,” Gupta said on his own network. “I didn’t look at labs in other countries who are doing incredible research, I didn’t listen to the chorus of patients who said not only does marijuana work for me, it’s the only thing that works for me!”

"Gupta has seen the light and although his apology is late, it is welcomed," said Lowe, who is now preparing for the third edition of his book in time for a planned conference on marijuana in September in Jamaica.

"I have been supporting ganja for its medicinal uses based on scientific activity," he said, adding that he  hoped to re-open a Cannabis Research Institute he had set up in the past.

While few tourists realize it, pot smoking has been illegal in Jamaica since 1913, though it is sold openly around the island.

In Canada, the federal government first allowed people to apply for medical marijuana licences in 2000. Today, there are more than 20,000 Canadians who can legally smoke or produce pot, according to Health Canada.

For all his ganja-boosting rhetoric, Dr. Lowe  is careful to caution against indiscriminate dope smoking.

"I am for managed, controlled research into marijuana. I am not into smoking ganja," Lowe said. "Smoking has its own dangers."

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Julian Sher is a foreign affairs and investigative reporter for the Star and can be reahced at jsher@thestar.ca and on Twitter @juliansher. 

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