I woke up Monday morning with lots of marijuana in the air.
On the air, the news was that CARICOM had just agreed to appoint a Regional Commission to look into how to go about separating the good and the bad in marijuana, which they mainly refer to by its scientific name ‘Cannabis’.
Also in the news Monday morning, right here, the gentleman better (and most) known or referred to as the nation’s most primary “marijuana advocate” also had his say on the issue – and he does not agree with the proposed commission.
Instead, Green Party leader Anthony ‘Pancho’ deCaires, who is also a full-time farmer, advocates that each CARICOM territory take its own position on whether to legalize marijuana or not.
By deCaires’ account, the herb is more openly smoked and accepted or tolerated by populations in Dominica, Saint Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines than in Grenada, so those territories with greater local support for the weed should take the fast track to it legalization and not seek an elusive regional consensus.
I watched and listened that morning to one of my sons talking to someone by Skype and he kept mentioning the two numbers ‘FOUR-TWENTY’. I overheard his overseas friend described it instead as ‘TWENTY-FOUR’. A slight argument ensued, but they agreed to disagree.
Careful not to sound like I was really snooping, I later asked my boy what ‘The 24 Argument’ as about. He smiled and told me it had to do with the day and the month, that “the 20th day of the 4th month is recognized everywhere as World Marijuana Day.”
It was only then I realized why there was so much marijuana in — and on — the air Monday morning.
The Caribbean has come a long way in the marijuana debate, to the extent that it’s one of the fastest-moving and most-discussed recent decisions taken by the CARICOM Heads of Government.
A common agreement to a unified approach to determination of how the region proceeds has already now seen all the individual member states participating in that discussion and agreeing to start the discussion at home, towards arriving at a conclusion.
That is quite a lot of progress, considering that just four decades ago all the CARICOM leaders had agreed to outlaw and criminalize marijuana across the region. The emphasis in 1976 was on passage of laws classifying marijuana as a ‘Dangerous Drug’. That led, across the region, to an automatic and systematic pursuit, arrest, harassment and violation of all rights of Rastafarians — and anyone else planting, smoking, selling or being in any way found with the weed.
Rastafarians in the ‘hills’ and other persons inhabiting mainly ghetto areas were targeted persecuted and many were prosecuted for merely being in possession of ‘a joint’ or a few marijuana seeds. Young people were herded into prisons across the region like lost sheep, locked-up by magistrates for months, if not years.
As deCaires correctly pointed out, there are varying levels of tolerance or acceptance of marijuana use in the different OECS states vis-as-vis Trinidad & Tobago and Barbados. But advocates of decriminalization must be careful not to limit the discussion to ‘smoking’ of the weed, as it’s a much larger issue.
What the CARICOM leaders have agreed to do is to open the way for the region to take its own approach to the future of marijuana use, which is a fact of life in every single state. They agreed to look at the entire cannabis plant and all its potential values. Proponents of decriminalization must therefore avoid treating the plant like the Caribbean has traditionally treated the coconut tree, being interested only in the nut’s water and jelly and ignoring its other many industrial uses. Or, like with bananas, where the tradition al emphasis is only on eating the fruit and throwing the valuable skin away.
The search has to be to see how much medical value the Caribbean can make of the fact that scientific and medical research has shown that marijuana has several medical and therapeutic uses. There’s also interest in examining the industrial uses of the cannabis hemp, which is already a growing a multimillion dollar industry in Europe and North America. And most of all, with more and more US states legalizing the medical use of marijuana and promoting the industrial use of the hemp, this crop of CARICOM leaders has opened the way for a quantum leap in the way the Caribbean takes decisions that impact the lives of its people.
The regional approach is also necessary for another reason: the decision taken by any one country will have implications for all CARICOM member-states. Just like with the Economic Citizenship issue, if it’s legal in one member-state, its legality in and by that state will have to be respected by all other member-states. So, for example, if marijuana is legalized in one state for religious, medical and industrial uses, the question arises: How will a citizen of that member-state travelling to or through another member-state, with that legal product, be treated?
A national marijuana commission will eventually have to be established in each independent CARICOM and OECS member-state. And while the discussions and debates are being conducted in the press and through the social media, proponents, advocates and supporters need to avoid proposing approaches more influenced by speed than the caution needed to undo four decades of historical damage to Caribbean society.
Most CARICOM and OECS societies are still dominated by people who do not smoke marijuana or use it in any way. More use it now than ever before — some openly, some in private. But the process must also involve wider public education on the fact that marijuana has more uses than just smoking. The medical and industrial products and their uses must be shown. The successful examples from elsewhere must be properly explained — and not only by those considered natural promoters, but also by those available scientific minds in each country aware of the need to change societal perspectives on marijuana use in all its forms. In other words, the emphasis must be on the cannabis plant in its entirety and not just the smoked weed.
The UK and the USA are following Canada by de-emphasizing police concentration on marijuana vis-à-vis cocaine and other hard drugs. The US Congress was recently influenced into changing its mind somewhat on outright criminalization of marijuana when American victims of multiple sclerosis appeared on Capitol Hill to give evidence — backed by science and supported by doctors — on how it helps keep them alive and through their sufferings.
Sales of medical marijuana are also booming in those states that have legalized it – and there are already predictions that many more US states will line-up to take advantage of the growing and increasingly lucrative medical marijuana boom across America.
Nobody in the Caribbean has ever been proven to have died from smoking marijuana. But many still believe ‘smoking can send you mad’ or ‘rob young people of their intelligence’. Such persons need to be convinced otherwise, but without asking them to ‘smoke a joint’ or ‘drink marijuana tea’.
All of the above notwithstanding, marijuana is still classified as an illegal drug in every CARICOM state. It will have to be first decriminalized to become legalized or legally industrialized and scientifically used for medical purposes. But it is what comes after that will matter most – and that’s what CARICOM’s collective approach will allow to happen across the region, even though faster in some states than others.
Short of crises or disasters, Governments everywhere normally and naturally take long to agree to do anything together. So, CARICOM is showing global leadership by agreeing so quickly to united approaches to issues such as Reparations and Marijuana.
Instead of rushing the leaders to ‘rush the brush’ or to ‘run instead of walking’, their regional initiatives need to be activated at the national levels by those who see the sense in what the Heads of Government have agreed to at summit levels. Where the leaders talk the talk at summits, it’s up to those at home to walk the walk.
Yet, I’m not at all pessimistic.
At the rate things are going – and with Jamaica already taking the expected lead – it won’t surprise me if by World Marijuana Day 2016, CARICOM will have arrived at a common position, one way or another, unanimous or not.
And by then my son and his friend will (most likely) have agreed on whether it’s ‘Four-Twenty’ or ‘Twenty-Four’…