“If we were to go all the way and legalise marijuana for both medicinal and recreational purposes, think about the effects it could have on boosting and differentiating our basically still-born tourism product… The potential to revitalise the local economies of rural villages hardest hit by our recession is obvious.
“Equally obvious, however, is the fact that this potential exists for practically every other Caribbean island. Which is why it is so important for us to be the first to do it.”
The following column, which proposes decriminalisation of marijuana as a part of the diversification enterprise, was submitted to Wired868 by Jabal Hassanali, a Trinidadian who is currently living and working in Japan:
I intended to sit down and write about marijuana legalisation for publication on 4/20, Weed Day. But in typical stoner fashion, I kind of just procrastinated, which is one of the many proclivities of hard-core stoners. Some three weeks have now passed and here am I hoping it is still timely.
You see, I want to argue that, as a country, we in T&T are way behind where we need to be if we are to properly leverage the immense benefits—financial and otherwise—a bold, sure-footed step in this direction can potentially bring.
Now the key words in that sentence are ‘bold’ and ‘sure-footed.’ Anything less can result in horrible consequences, so the stakes are high. The recent track record of our politicians on both those counts does not exactly inspire confidence. And no—in case you’re wondering—boldfacedness is not the same thing as boldness.
In this context, ‘bold’ means being a pioneer, having the wherewithal to recognize that change is indisputably coming and bravely trying to take in front and shape how this change will impact you rather than being a passive reactor when the system has already been designed and shaped for you without your input.
It is exactly the sort of leadership the Honourable Ralph Gonsalves urged his fellow Caricom leaders to adopt almost four years ago, before we end up consuming “the medical/health, cosmetic and other products derived from marijuana, legally grown and produced, in the USA.”
The response was, at best, lukewarm; in the years since, a regional Marijuana Commission has been appointed, to be supported by the Caricom Secretariat. And that’s about it really.
Dr Gonsalves has gone on to push for national consultations within his native St Vincent but there seems to be nothing happening here in Trinidad and Tobago, a so-called regional leader. Instead, we seem to be clinging desperately and hoping against hope that the boons generated from bold decisions made more than a generation ago will last just a little longer.
Now what do I mean by ‘sure-footed’? Well, in any endeavour, there will always be known unknowns and unknown unknowns, so I’m not talking about complete confidence bordering on wilful ignorance. Rather, in crafting legislation, one must be cognizant of the status quo, the policy objectives one is trying to achieve, the drawbacks and how best they can be mitigated and the feasibility of implementation/resources required.
Far too often, however, this is not the case. I often wonder why, in a country that produces bucket-loads of lawyers who are trained in critical thinking, so many of our laws seem merely copied and pasted from other jurisdictions.
Now, after taking in all this, let’s explore the possibilities.
If we were to go all the way and legalise marijuana for both medicinal and recreational purposes, think about the effects it could have on boosting and differentiating our basically still-born tourism product. Think Amsterdam, except with way better weather and scenery.
A marijuana experience tailored to any tourist profile, from backpackers seeking out the ‘Coffee shops’ dotted along the North Coast villages, to the more traditional sand/sea/sun aficionado smoking a custom-made, hand-rolled MADE IN TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO joint on the veranda of his/her rented villa in Tobago overlooking the Caribbean Sea.
The potential to revitalise the local economies of rural villages hardest hit by our recession is obvious. Equally obvious, however, is the fact that this potential exists for practically every other Caribbean island.
Which is why it is so important for us to be the first to do it. While we may never be able to match the brand recognition and cultural affinity to marijuana that Jamaica enjoys, being the first Caribbean country to fully legalize and regulate the marijuana industry at least puts us in the conversation.
The world will watch with bated breath and report on it. That’s extensive—and free!—publicity we could never hope to afford otherwise.
Our strategic location near South America is another factor to consider. It puts us within touching distance of a largely untapped market of thousands of adventure seeking/backpacking enthusiasts who trek through that continent every year.
And while we are miles away from where we need to be, both from a safety and public transport perspective, it is precisely those types of tourists who are more willing to take that risk in pursuit of an experience with a difference.
On the subject of crime, the benefits of decriminalization for possession of small amounts have been clearly demonstrated across a number of jurisdictions, both in countries boasting developing and developed status. The courts are less clogged with trivial matters and the administration of justice runs that little bit more smoothly.
Lady Justice herself becomes a little bit fairer for, as we all know, the prosecution of those crimes was heavily skewed against members of the lower economic classes, especially those who themselves aren’t fair enough to begin with.
Still, I would argue, decriminalization of that sort does not go far enough. And, what is more, given the culture of this place, it can have some nasty repercussions.
For one thing, given that demand will still be supplied by the black market, it will invariably further enrich criminal organisations. Yes, marijuana is nowhere near as dangerous—or lucrative—as cocaine, but many of the importers/suppliers peddle both substances and you would have to be extremely naïve to not recognize that the weed trade is responsible for its own fair share of the gun violence and homicides that take place every year.
The more money there is to be fought over, the worse will be the in-fighting.
With our laissez-faire approach to everything, I can easily see a policy of small amounts decriminalisation spiralling, emboldening more people to pursue illegal growing operations. Much of this will take place under the cover of tropical forests and other ecologically sensitive areas that are laxly monitored and already under siege.
Give Trinis an inch and they take a mile. Decriminalization fosters an environment of uncertainty, and it is under these Wild, Wild West conditions, that bullies, on either side of the law, make the rules, to the detriment of the ordinary citizen. A well thought out legal regulatory framework, however, while not outright eliminating these repercussions, would go a long way towards addressing them.
Licensed growers can be redirected to operate in the areas we want them to. Agriculture is in desperate need of a champion and marijuana might just be the unlikely candidate to fill that need.
Prime agricultural lands in Aranguez, Chaguaramas and areas in Central Trinidad are being lost at an alarming rate owing to a weakly enforced planning system, as I recently described in these pages. They are instead ‘regularised’ into other more ‘valuable’ uses such as light industrial (warehousing), housing and petting zoos.
‘Light industrial’ implies manufacturing but often these warehouses just store imported goods to be sold at marked-up prices by our oh-so-innovative entrepreneurial class.
Editor’s Note: Wired868 will publish Part Two of Jabal Hassanali’s column on Sunday 21 May.