UTech, Jamaica Receives Renewed Licence for Medical Marijuana Research

Dr. the Hon. Andrew Wheatley (right) Minister of Science, Energy and Technology presents the renewed medical marijuana research licence to Prof. Colin Gyles, Acting President, University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech, Jamaica) during the 2nd Medical Marijuana Integration Day hosted by the College of Health Sciences on Friday, May 13, 2016 at the UTech, Jamaica Papine campus.


The University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech, Jamaica) reached another significant milestone in its thrust as a national partner in developing a sustainable marijuana industry, with the receipt of a renewed medical marijuana research licence from the Minister of Science, Energy and Technology, Dr. the Hon. Andrew Wheatley, MP.  The Minister presented the renewed licence to the University’s Acting President, Prof. Colin Gyles during the 2nd Medical Marijuana Integration Day hosted by the College of Health Sciences on Friday, May 13, 2016 at the UTech, Jamaica Papine campus. UTech, Jamaica received its first medical marijuana research licence on May 13, 2015 from then Minister Hon. Phillip Paulwell during the University’s inaugural Marijuana Integration Day. 

The 2nd Marijuana Integration Day dubbed “Cannabis Reclaimed II” celebrated the gains and the impact made by the University in the area of marijuana research and community partnership.  The day’s proceedings attracted a large gathering of academics, private and public sector partners and interest groups, students and members of the Rastafarian and Maroon communities and included research presentations, exhibits and demonstrations, product display booths and a plant clinic for testing of cannabis sativa samples.

In his address to the capacity gathering, Minister Wheatley referenced the case of a two-year old boy overseas who has Dravet Syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy which forces him to constantly wear a helmet owing to incidences of up to 20 seizures a day.  He noted that the seizures have significantly been reduced since the child began medical marijuana treatment a year ago.  Minister Wheatley noted that these are the encouraging stories that “motivate us as a Government to find solutions for the people of Jamaica and the wider international community,” adding that this “gives credence to the work of medical scientists and researchers.”  He commended UTech, Jamaica for the research work being undertaken in this regard and for its role as a “reservoir of knowledge” needed to revolutionise the industry.

Lucrative Neutraceuticals Industry

In the area of nutraceuticals, the Minister also pointed to the enormous economic potential for Jamaica which he noted has over 80 of the 160 existing medicinal plants with scientifically validated medical benefits.  “In other words, we have here in Jamaica, 50% of the plants in the world that have been declared to have medicinal properties,” he reinforced, adding that “the total estimated value of nutraceuticals exported from Jamaica in 2014 was over US$12 M.  Minister Wheatley told the gathering that his Government is “taking the necessary steps to implementing the necessary legislations and policies so that this industry can soar.”  Among the measures being taken, he noted, are steps to enhance the role of the Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA) including consultancy to recommend discrete components of the regulations; creation of licensing regimes to include five license types and 11 categories, and security and enforcement monitoring mechanisms.

Acting President, Prof. Colin Gyles in his welcome, noting the historic significance of the day said that UTech, Jamaica as the only national university takes its mandate seriously to “align our pursuit of knowledge, research and scholarship with national development goals.”  He noted that a University-wide multidisciplinary research group led by Dr. Ellen Campbell-Grizzle, Dean, College of Health Sciences has continued to make steady progress in research on medical marijuana.  He highlighted that among the significant progress made was a 25 year lease with the Government Chemist Department to provide additional laboratory space for the University’s researchers who are focusing on the development of pharmaceutical products, as well as the establishment of a specialized laboratory and high-tech indoor and outdoor greenhouse marijuana growing facility on the UTech, Jamaica Papine campus.   Prof. Gyles emphasized that the University’s main interest will continue to be the medical and scientific aspects of marijuana research, rather than the recreational and sacramental use.

The Acting President also noted that in keeping with the UTech, Jamaica community-based approach to development, the University has led extensive engagement with community-based farmers, individual growers and the pharmaceutical community.  “We want to ensure that all communities that we engage in the research process will be empowered to sustain the gains made by the involvement of their citizens,” he said.

Prof. Colin Gyles (at podium), Acting President, UTech, Jamaica addressing the gathering during the 2nd Medical Marijuana Integration Day.  Seated in the front row from left are, Dr. the Hon. Andrew Wheatley, MP, Minister of Science, Energy and Technology, Dr. Ellen Campbell Grizzle, Dean, COHS and Prof. the Hon. Errol Morrison, OJ, Director General, National Commission on Science and Technology and former President, UTech, Jamaica.

Dr. Ellen Campbell-Grizzle, in her overview, provided an update on the community-based approach to development of medical marijuana research at the University. The Dean told the gathering that in considering the national agenda on the development of a lucrative marijuana industry, consideration was given to the University’s strengths and the gaps to be filled in offering solutions, even within the context of resource constraints.  “We decided to use an integrated pathway, which incorporates the knowledge of academia and the wisdom of community,” she noted, adding that “in working with the communities we ensure that whatever they are producing is of the best quality and their potential for giving us standardized products is likely to be achieved.” Dr. Campbell-Grizzle also disclosed that the University was successful in its bid to receive a US $500,000 grant award from Seeding Labs, USA which has been used to purchase some of the equipment to expand its marijuana plant testing.

Productive Partnerships

Ganja Labs USA — a subsidiary of Ganja Inc. has been a key partner and investor in the University’s thrust in the scientific research, use of technology and best practices in the cultivation of medicinal marijuana under controlled and secure conditions. The collaboration has involved the development of a multi-million dollar joint venture for the establishment of a specialized laboratory and high tech greenhouse growing facility at UTech, Jamaica's Papine campus, for research and experimentation. Chairman, Ganja Labs, Mr. Balram Vaswani in providing an update on the progress being made at the marijuana growing facility, emphasized the need for partnership among stakeholders if Jamaica is to reap the benefits of a well regulated marijuana industry.  He urged the new board of the Cannabis Licensing Authority to move quickly to formalize the regulations governing the industry.

The sentiments were echoed by his special guest, Mr. Roy “Gramps” Morgan, reggae singer, who cautioned that the international window of opportunity was fast closing for Jamaica to reap the maximum benefits of a marijuana industry, given the fast pace of legislation in Canada, parts of the USA and elsewhere, to legalize marijuana. He urged the farmers present to ensure that the proper steps are taken so that their operations are legal.

Legal Perspective of Cannabis

Attorney-at-Law and Dean of the Faculty of Law, UTech, Ja, Mr. Alfred McPherson in providing a legal perspective on the history of marijuana legislation and the amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act which was passed into Law just over a year ago in April 2015, pointed out that there is still widespread misconceptions as to the real meaning and ambit of the amended legislation.  Calling on the Government to act with urgency in sustained public education, he cautioned that “without an aggressive and assertive approach to untangling and effectively addressing the many grey areas that still remain unanswered in terms of public education and clarity, the positive impact of the amended legislation could be lost amidst chaos and confusion which would make the country no better off in real terms than it was prior to the passage of the legislation.”  The Dean noted that there is still confusion with respect to the limits imposed by the legislation as it relates to five plants per household, the possession of two ounces or under, and the allowances for sacrament users by the adherents to the Rastafarian faith.

Mr. McPherson expressed the view that Jamaica is poised as a formidable competitor on the world markets for medical derivatives and other products from ganja, and emphasized the need for effective policies and companion regulations that will serve to guide processes that will translate into tangible benefits for the entire country.

Other presenters on the programme were  Dr. Andrew Lamm, Director/Head, Centre for Science-based Research, Entrepreneurship and Continuing Education, UTech, Jamaica  who provided an update on the prospects afforded by HPLC analysis of cannabis samples being undertaken at the Natural Products Research Lab at UTech, Jamaica; while Dr. Denise Daley, Pharmacognosist/Programme Director, College of Health Sciences, UTech, Jamaica examined prospects for the use of cannabis sativa in the nutraceutical and cosmoceutical industry. 

Human rights activist and Managing Director, Widpon Aquaponic Farm, Mrs. Yvonne McCalla Sobers gave an update on her foray into growing medical cannabis in an aquaponics system and pointed to the merits of the ecologically friendly system.  UTech, Jamaica research partner Dr. Donald Land, Professor of Chemistry, Forensic Science and Biotechnology, University of California, USA and  Chief Scientist, Steep Hill Labs Inc. whose company donated the firstQunataCann2TM   instant cannabis analysis machine to UTech, Jamaica, in a presentation on “Growing Medical Cannabis:  You Can’t Tell a Book by its Cover”  spoke to the crucial need for scientific analysis of the plant to differentiate between strains of cannabis which determine their influence on medical and psychological effects. 

Noted psychiatrist, Prof. Wendel Abel provided the gathering with detailed evidence and research on the “pitfalls” and “promises” of medical marijuana.  Noting that he was excited about the prospects of medical marijuana as an anti-psychotic and its increasing role in the treatment of mental health disorders and a wide range of therapeutic benefits  in the management of diseases such as epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and neuropathic pain, Prof. Abel emphasized  the need to protect minors from access to marijuana, including the sale and access of edibles and other derivate products  which can be harmful,  resulting in cognitive impairment and other adverse conditions.  He also urged partnership in ensuring an understanding of the specific needs of the medical market, so that farming practices can be attendantly structured and regulated.

 MoU Signed with Trelawny Town-Flagstaff Maroon Council

Prof. Colin Gyles (centre), Acting President, UTech, Jamaica and Chief Michael Grizzle of the Trelawny Town-Flagstaff Maroon Council  affix their signatures to the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the two institutions to facilitate collaboration on research and testing of herbal plants and product development. Witnessing the signing is Dr. the Hon. Andrew Wheatley, MP, Minister of Science, Energy and Technology.

During the proceedings, Acting President, Prof. Colin Gyles and Chief Michael Grizzle of the Trelawny Town-Flagstaff Maroon Council signed a Memorandum of Understanding for a community-based partnership that will facilitate collaboration on research and testing of herbal plants and products and the development of herbal based small and medium size enterprises.

The programme also included a panel discussion, exhibitions from UTech, Jamaica, Trelawny Town-Flagstaff Maroons and OIL (OrangeHill Industries Limited).  

The 2nd UTech, Jamaica Medical Marijuana Integration Day was sponsored by Timeless Herbal Care and Canamo Jamaica Ltd.



Michelle A. Beckford (Mrs.)
Corporate Communications Manager
University of Technology, Jamaica
237 Old Hope Road,, Kingston 6
Tel: (876) 970-5299; 927-1680-8 Ext. 2299,  Fax: 970-2225
Email: mbeckford@utech.edu.jm