By Horace Helps
KINGSTON (Reuters) - It's been a long time coming, but the birthplace of reggae and legendary pot-lover Bob Marley has announced the launch of its first medical marijuana company.
Jamaican Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce Anthony Hylton was among government officials on hand at a ceremony in the capital, Kingston, on Tuesday night where the opening of the company known as MediCanja was formally announced.
The island nation, world famous among connoisseurs for the distinctive and almost mystical allure of its pot known locally as ganja, has long been known as the leading Caribbean supplier of illegal marijuana to the United States.
But MediCanja marks the first known effort to find a legitimate source of revenue from Jamaica's bountiful, but still illicit, crop of marijuana.
The company will focus initially on research and product development involving cannabidiol, or CBD, a compound in marijuana that has medical effects, but not psychoactive effects, company officials said.
The officials noted that some marijuana strains have been genetically modified to contain high levels of CBD and low levels of the plant's psychoactive ingredient, THC.
Henry Lowe, a local scientist and entrepreneur who is the executive chairman of MediCanja, said its initial research would concentrate heavily on the development of such strains of ganja.
"Medical ganja could have a multiplier effect by catalyzing other industries such as health and wellness tourism," Lowe said at the launch ceremony.
"Ultimately," he said, medical cannabis could help "transform Jamaica's fledgling economy."
Lowe declined to tell Reuters how he intends to get supplies of marijuana, the raw material from which future products would be developed, but he said it would be done legally.
"We have already received permission to operate and the Jamaican Parliament is moving to pass legislation that will allow certain things to come into being. We will not break any local or international laws or conventions," Lowe said.
He stopped short of saying how soon any actual manufacturing activity would begin. But he said medical marijuana was known to treat a variety of illnesses including insomnia, anxiety, vomiting and nausea, pain, symptoms of certain types of cancer, as well as glaucoma.
"Given Jamaica's history with ganja, we could be the hub for medical ganja in Latin America and the Caribbean," he said.
(Editing by Tom Brown and Vicki Allen)