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Good morning ladies and gentlemen,

I am indeed honoured that I have been invited to convey greetings here today at the opening of the University Diabetes Outreach Programme’s 22nd Annual International Diabetes Conference. I welcome you all to what I know will be an educational and informative programme with this rich combination of academics, researchers, diabetes associations, healthcare practitioners and industry partners.

The mandate of the Diabetes Association of Jamaica is to deliver interventions and education in diabetes prevention and care to the public. In order to intervene and to educate, it therefore means that our information, methods and methodologies must be centred around innovation.

I am therefore proud to acknowledge UDOP for taking this bold step in continuing and contributing to the dialogue on the role of cannabis compounds in affecting those with diabetes. According to the World Health Organisation about 422 million people worldwide have diabetes, the prevalence of which is growing most rapidly in low and middle-income countries. According to the International Diabetes Federation, there were 202,600 adult cases (individuals who are 20-79 years old) of diabetes in Jamaica in 2015. 1,952 adult deaths were recorded in Jamaica in 2015. The use of cannabis in wellness is not a new idea, however it has been met with hesitation due to the stigma that cannabis carries as a result of its abuse.

In doing my own research, I found that there is a growing research investigating the use of cannabis compounds and their effect on diabetes. A research paper published by the American Alliance for Medical Cannabis suggested that cannabis could help in stabilising blood sugars, preventing nerve inflammation and easing the pain of neurotherapy (the most common complication of diabetes), lowering blood pressure over time, suppressing some of the arterial inflammation commonly experienced by diabetics, among other benefits. Therefore, the introduction of cannabis can, if proven effective, diversifies options for treatment for diabetics.

In the same way, the introduction of cannabis into treatment for diabetes among other illnesses will also play a role in diversifying the product that we market to tourists. It will be a focus of the Ministry to build out the wellness tourism product in order to attract a new niche market. Consistent with the World Health Organization’s definition of “health,” the Global Wellness Institute defines wellness as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being.  It goes beyond mere freedom from disease or infirmity and emphasizes the proactive maintenance and improvement of health and well-being. The Institute’s research has indicated that although reliable estimates of the annual number of people travelling abroad to purchase medical services – so-called medical tourists – are difficult to identify, there has been a rise in medical tourism in the past decade. The Institute reported that in 2013 wellness tourism was responsible for 600,000 trips to Jamaica with US$716,900,000 in expenditure. Given the broad definition of wellness tourism, there will be overlap with tourism as we know it (sun, sand and sea). But imagine what those numbers would look like if we were to properly create a wellness tourism package for that new market.

So we ask ourselves, what could this tourism product look like for Jamaica?  The promotion of wellness tourism will touch every aspect of my 5-pillar growth agenda. This growth agenda has been formulated to stimulate job creation and economic growth for Jamaica, while eliminating seasonality in tourism. Wellness tourism will help us to access new markets, as we tap into the reported US438 million-dollar global wellness tourism market (SRI International). Wellness tourism will mobilize Jamaica to create new or modified products to offer this new market. These products will attract new investments into our tourism sector, as we strive for persistent research and development. Wellness tourism will see the strengthening of partnerships among the relevant stakeholders: key players from the tourism, agriculture and health sectors, and regulatory and enforcement bodies among others.  Finally, it will see new opportunities to penetrate the tourism market and the further development in our human capital. Our farmers would further develop their knowledge and skill in order to provide the quality of cannabis that is required for wellness and remain competitive. It will provide an opportunity for creativity as entrepreneurs initiate new experiences such as wellness spas and its incorporation of cannabis oils into massages and aromatherapy, rich in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabinol (CBN) utilizing a full cannabinoid spectrum and allowing for maximum healing potential. We will see a change in nutraceuticals and a change from what has become traditional methods of treatment to natural remedies. We will see new opportunity.

This does not come without its challenges. Just last week Jamaica’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, attended the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs, where she outlined the strategy that will be implemented to fight the war on drugs. This 5-point National Drug Plan included prevention, early intervention, treatment rehabilitation and social integration. Furthermore, while laws would be strengthened to dismantle criminal organisations, Senator Johnson Smith indicated that there would be provisions made for the medical, therapeutic and scientific use of cannabis.

With that said, I, invite you, over the next two days, to not just think of cannabis as beneficial to patients, but also to appreciate the effect that this new direction will have on the furtherance of our goals of job creation and economic growth by way of linkages and partnerships in wellness.