In a landmark shift in attitudes and medicine, the national drug formulary – the list of affordable generic and brand-name medications offered by the Barbados Drug Service – is to carry marijuana-based prescription medicines.
Minister of Health today Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Bostic announced that following recommendations from the Barbados National Drug Formulary Committee and in keeping with a manifesto pledge, Government has approved five marijuana-based drugs to be added to the drug formulary.
This means the Drug Service will soon be in a position to procure those medications and doctors will be able to prescribe them. The next drug formulary is due April 2020.
Lieutenant Colonel Bostic did not disclose the names of the new drugs but said the approvals, granted more than a week ago, was a critical step in the development of a medical cannabis industry.
“This is just part of a two-phase journey. There is another phase that will take us elsewhere,” the Health Minister told the opening of a training session for health care providers on Therapeutic Prescribing of Medicinal Marijuana Products, at the Cave Hill School of Business and Management of the University of the West Indies (UWI).
A ministerial sub-committee of the Ministries of Health, Agriculture, Education and Information, as well as the Attorney General’s Office was formed to review legislation.
Lieutenant Colonel Bostic said that it was found that the law governing the drug formulary already allowed for the prescribing and dispensing of medical marijuana and therefore “there was no need to change the law”.
“The current legislation gives the Minister of Health and Wellness the authority to do so through the process of the Drug Formulary. That is what guides everything in Barbados in terms of dispensing and prescribing drugs. So we decided we would utilise that established process.”
Two of the key pieces of legislation are the Health Services Act and the Barbados Pharmacy Act.
But there is to be no prescription of cannabis products that had to be smoked “because there is no scientific evidence to suggest that smoking contributes to any ailments people might have. So that was ruled out from day one”, the Health Minister said.
Government has already indicated that there is to be a referendum on the recreational use of marijuana but no timeline has been given.
Lieutenant Colonel Bostic said he was looking forward to the help of all medical practitioners in Barbados to “help us regulate this industry as we proceed with this project”, adding that their help was “absolutely necessary”.
But he cautioned that “this is not the be all and end all”, adding that there were still questions to be answered including how to treat with people who are certified in other jurisdictions but move to Barbados, the age limit of individuals that should be allowed to use medical cannabis, and issues relating to people who operate heavy equipment.
UWI Pro-Vice Chancellor and Principal of the Cave Hill Campus Professor Eudine Barriteau warned that as the industry was being developed locals should not be left out.
She also urged the authorities not to allow the industry to dwindle like that of the once lucrative, but now vanishing sugar cane industry.
“We have taken careful note of the fact that Canadian companies are interested in working with Barbados and other Caribbean nations as we develop our medical cannabis industries.
“Those of you who are involved make sure these are equal partnerships. I am tired of lopsided relationships where we have primary products, others take our products and add value and we end up getting the shorter end of the stick.
“It happened with the sugar cane industry and it must not happen with the marijuana industry when we have the right legislative framework in place.
We anticipate that the Barbados Government will adhere to its promise to keep Barbadians involved at all levels especially those who have been historically ostracized and criminalized when using the plant,” Professor Barriteau said.
Bostic promised that “the average Barbadian will not be excluded” from the development of the industry here, adding that “persons who might have been ostracized or even criminalized in the past, will be included in this process as we try to map out the direction that we are going to go in this industry”.
At the end of the two-day training workshop, pharmacists, doctors, nurses and other medical industry officials were expected to be able to prescribe and dispense medicinal products that have been approved.