As cannabis is becoming legal in more and more countries, Jamaica has announced its forthcoming medical marijuana company, MediCanja. Scientist Henry Lowe claims that the island could very well be the hub for medical ganja in Latin America and the Caribbean. According to Ian Johnston, however, China may prove to be a formidable competitor:
Almost 5,000 years ago, Chinese physicians recommended a tea made from cannabis leaves to treat a wide variety of conditions including gout and malaria. Today, as the global market for marijuana experiences an unprecedented boom after being widely legalised, it is China that again appears to have set its eyes on dominating trade in the drug. The communist country is well placed to exploit the burgeoning cannabis trade with more than half of the patents relating to or involving cannabis originating in China. According to the World Intellectual Property Organisation (Wipo), Chinese firms have filed 309 of the 606 patents relating to the drug.
About 147 million people – around 2.5 per cent of the world’s population – use cannabis, according to the World Health Organisation. [. . .] It can be used to treat conditions ranging from the nausea caused by chemotherapy for cancer patients and chronic pain to cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy.
Last month, Uruguay became the first country to legalise marijuana in its entirety – from growing the crop to processing and use. Yesterday it appeared that a second South American country, Peru, could follow Uruguay’s example and legalise cannabis production. [. . .] Last week, the US state of Colorado decriminalised the recreational use of cannabis and people in Washington state have also voted to legalise marijuana, although stores are not expected to open until later in the year. Shares in companies involved in cannabis soared after Colorado’s move. One firm, MediSwipe Inc, had its stock jump by nearly 70 per cent on 2 January. The legal trade of cannabis in the US alone could be worth $10bn (£6bn) by 2018. And analysts say it is China that is once again at the forefront of exploiting new economic opportunities.
[. . .] Many of the Chinese patents are for herbal treatments. One, filed by the Yunan Industrial Cannabis Sativa Co, refers to an application made from whole cannabis sativa seeds to make “functional food” designed to improve the human immune system. Another, by an inventor called Zhang Hongqi, is for a “Chinese medicinal preparation” for treating peptic ulcers. It uses an array of ingredients, including cannabis sativa seed. The filing says it has “significant therapeutic effectiveness and does not cause any adverse effect”.
There is also a patent filing from China for a treatment for constipation, which is made using fructus cannabis and other ingredients such as “immature bitter orange”, Chinese angelica and balloon flower. [. . .] However, only one company in the world has developed cannabis-based drugs as medicines that have been recognised by regulators in the West following the long, costly process of clinical trials. GW Pharmaceuticals, based in Wiltshire, makes Sativex for the treatment of symptoms of multiple sclerosis and cancer pain, and Epidiolex for childhood epilepsy.
A spokesman for the company, which is the only one licensed to carry out research on cannabis in the UK, said China had a long history of working with herbal medicines. “In that sense it doesn’t come as a surprise. This is a country with thousands of years of working with plants in medicines,” he said of the patent filings.
In December, Jamaica announced it was forming its first medical marijuana company, called MediCanja. Henry Lowe, a scientist and executive chairman of MediCanja, said medical cannabis could help “transform Jamaica’s fledgling economy”. He added: “Given Jamaica’s history with ganja, we could be the hub for medical ganja in Latin America and the Caribbean.”
Peter Reynolds, leader of Cannabis Law Reform (Clear), a UK-based campaign group, said China had another advantage over other countries in selling cannabis as it is one of the largest producers in the world of industrial hemp, a form of cannabis with a low amount of the psychoactive compound THC. “The Chinese are smarter and they are on to all the good ideas,” Mr Reynolds said. “The potential for cannabis as a medicine is monumental.” [. . .]