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T&T must make marijuana move now or risk losing our piece of the action

“Once the UN does make the necessary adjustment, the floodgates will open and the rest of the world—including major bandwaggonists Trinidad and Tobago—will all of a sudden see this as a non-issue. So if we take the risk now, where, realistically, in the Western Hemisphere would the diplomatic backlash come from? Certainly not the USA, who are skidding along on a technicality, state by state, and have lost the moral authority to protest.

“This article does not seek to win you over by convincing you that marijuana is a wonder drug for the healing of the nation or that smoking it is merely some harmless vice. It simply seeks to remind all that you cannot stop an idea whose time has come, which is the case with marijuana. Maybe, it seeks simply to suggest, we in T&T can capitalise on it.”

The following is the second part of Jabal Hassanali’s column on the potential benefits of a legalised marijuana industry in Trinidad and Tobago:

Photo: Global pop star Rihanna, a Barbadian, has a smoke.
Photo: Global pop star Rihanna, a Barbadian, has a smoke.

Meanwhile, our poor, ‘backwards’ farmers languish. Theirs is a neglected industry with farmers routinely dismissed and stereotyped as being uneducated. Yet despite the lack of support, they are somehow resilient and innovative enough to produce the world’s hottest peppers and some of its finest cocoa beans.

Marijuana might just be the high-profile commodity with enough ‘cool factor’ to correct this unfortunate perception as well as with the immediate potential profitability to make the unscrupulous reconsider further encroaching and shrinking the country’s prospects for actual food security.

And what if our educational institutions were to get into the act?

Agricultural Science could once again be a very popular field among the nation’s youth and what might begin as an immature fascination with marijuana could actually burgeon into a real passion for the growing of food in general.

With legalisation, academic research into marijuana—its positive medicinal benefits as well as its harmful effects—would be a lot less encumbered and, although we are very late to join the party, I feel sure we would be able to produce innovations and findings that would not only be relevant globally but useful to our own local context as well.

Over time, these findings would feed back into public policy, helping us to chart the best way forward in literally uncharted territory.

Photo: A pharmacist cultivates medical marijuana in Colorado.
Photo: A pharmacist cultivates medical marijuana in Colorado.

Back on the subject of public policy, this is another reason why legalisation trumps decriminalization. As noted before, the new social norms that would be created by this paradigm shift have to be carefully considered and anticipated from the outset.

Before we design the eventual system, potential conflicts between smokers and non-smokers—where and when persons will be allowed to smoke—the protection of minors, how and in what forms can the drug be packaged, marketed and dispensed, where it will be made available and THC/potency restrictions are all issues that must be publicly ventilated and openly discussed and debated through meaningful consultation.

In that same spirit, however, we must remember that focused consultation should not degenerate into mere lip service and pussyfooting. We cannot allow ourselves to be paralysed by inaction because we are trying to develop the perfect system.

Perfect in this regard is the enemy of good and, no matter how much due diligence we undertake, it must be recognised that there will always be kinks and blind spots in the early stages of the experiment. Still, even the creation of an imperfect legal market can go a long way toward seriously disrupting the black market.

To derive maximum benefit from so doing, we shall have to ensure that we keep the barriers of entry into the industry so that it is made easily accessible to persons from disenfranchised communities.

Photo: A marijuana store is open for legal business in Colorado.
Photo: A marijuana store is open for legal business in Colorado.

We should aim to cripple criminal gangs by attracting as many of the over 18 foot soldiers or potential foot soldiers as possible away from their clutches and ushering them into the regulatory system. Using both carrot and stick at the same time, we must redouble efforts to crack down on and destroy illegal fields.

In this regard, the involvement of the Defence Force and other armed services will be critical.

Finally, I must touch on the elephant in the room. Pursuing this course of action puts our country directly in contravention of a number of international laws and treaty obligations. This is one reason cited by many why, in spite of all the talk, legalisation is simply a non-starter.

It should be noted that these treaties date back to the 70s and late 80s and are a throwback to the globally declared ‘War on Drugs,’ a war today largely recognised by most analysts to have been a failure. Still, to date, only one country has explicitly defied these treaties by legalising marijuana at a federal level—Uruguay dared to do it in late 2013.

And while its actions have been met by public rebuke and warnings from the UN, there have been no real sanctions of any kind. In fact, after the UN’s special session on drugs in 2016, they themselves seem to have realized that the treaties are outdated and run the risk of irrelevance, particularly regarding marijuana.

Photo: A DEA agent carries out a marijuana raid in the United States.
Photo: A DEA agent carries out a marijuana raid in the United States.

Canada, a globally respected ally to most countries, has recently introduced its own marijuana legalisation. If it is passed, this will put even more pressure on the UN to reform their stance rather than the other way around.

Bear in mind that, once the UN does make the necessary adjustment, the floodgates will open and the rest of the world—including major bandwaggonists Trinidad and Tobago—will all of a sudden see this as a non-issue. So if we take the risk now, where, realistically, in the Western Hemisphere would the diplomatic backlash come from?

Certainly not the USA, who are skidding along on a technicality, state by state, and have lost the moral authority to protest.

Coming perhaps some five years too late, this article does not seek to win you over by convincing you that marijuana is a wonder drug for the healing of the nation or that smoking it is merely some harmless vice. It simply seeks to remind all that you cannot stop an idea whose time has come, which is the case with marijuana.

Maybe, it seeks simply to suggest, we in T&T can capitalise on it.

The fact of the matter is that nowadays a great number of teenagers and practically all young adults and everyone older than that, regardless of their socio-economic background, have relatively easy access to weed and can try it if they so desire. However, the risk and danger involved in both the quality of the product and the actual transaction varies considerably across classes. This should not be.

Photo: Late Reggae star Bob Marley enjoys a spliff. (Copyright UK Guardian)
Photo: Late Reggae star Bob Marley enjoys a spliff.
(Copyright UK Guardian)

The onus is on us to remove the wool from our eyes and, in the interest of fairness to all, try a different approach. And perhaps make some money on the side as well.

As a diversification option, this opportunity represents relatively low-hanging fruit that can be plucked in the short-to-medium term if we play our cards right.

We can simultaneously reduce crime and boost tourism and the economy.

One stone(r), two birds.

Editors note: Click HERE to read Part One of Jabal Hassanali’s column on the potential benefits to business, tourism and agriculture of decriminalising marijuana usage in Trinidad and Tobago.

AboutJabal Hassanali

Jabal Hassanali is a semi-retired, Trini urban planner-cum-English teacher, who is currently stuck somewhere in Asia. He has made a career of being in-between countries and in-between jobs and sometimes, mainly in his in-between moments, fancies himself a writer.

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53 comments

  1. What about all the other uses of the plant? Hemp oil? Hemp fibers for rope, fabric, sail cloth etc? It’s not just about reefer relaxation….

  2. That archaic colonial legislation that we still adhere to as a nation. It isn’t even a case of myopia, just more of a chronic governmental stagnation from regime to regime.
    As soon as we stop the “pass the baton” mentality of government greed and look towards national progression we will stand a chance.

    The fact that we’re talking about it here means it’s way too late to capitalize. (We have oil eh….we eh learn yet)

  3. Against the psychotropic drug you mean?

    • no but, what is the REASON? does it kill? does it hurt? does it make you bleed? what?

    • IMO…the political exposure from lobbying pro-ganja is seen as little gain vs the ultra-conservatives+religious+bandwaggonists
      there must be some very clear gains for the national good from this for politicians to get behind it.

    • And when you use words Brian Manning, everybody have access to a dictionary, and can tell that the words you use may not be relevant, however fancy they sound.

    • The weed people smoked in Trinidad used to be a lot less potent and more naturalistic. Increasingly this is changing. Due to the more purely commercialised, capitalistic approach of America, weed is increasingly being weaponized with higher and higher levels of THC and more psychoactive as a result. And it’s coming. Rather, Kush is here (Ned Stark voice) and it is a clear and present danger. One that we can turn a blind eye to or try and tackle head on. I think we, proponents and opponents, can all agree on that. Now some have rightfully suggested that tougher enforcement of laws is an option. I am in Japan right now and there is a zero tolerance approach to marijuana. It works really well. Even the foreigners I met here who do like to smoke weed, for the most part tow the line because of the great consequences if you are caught and its great expense due to its scarcity. However, it was never really part of Japanese culture to begin with and the Japanese people don’t miss what they never really had. Japan has a largely homogenous society, very tough immigration, and secure borders. Contrast this with Trinidad and Tobago. We have an inept police service, a ‘I don’t even know how to describe it’ judiciary and laughably open borders. Given our status quo and position along the scale, I would say that while a liberalized approach of legalisation to tackle the problem will be very difficult to implement, and requires great care and forethought, a ‘zero tolerance’ approach is frankly impossible at this point. Still, to do nothing, that is, the State refusing to step in and have a say, because of some perceived moral high ground, is an act of cowardice. In fact, it is actually hypocritical, because the same people who say this idea is morally reprehensible because it will foist weed on our children, don’t seem to have an issue with a regulated legal tobacco industry. An industry, controlled by large corporations (so it doesn’t even benefit small businesses) that literally peddles boxes of addictive poison; a product with no redeemable qualities under any circumstances and is more easily available to children than marijuana.

  4. Brian Manning what is the principle behind the legislation against the plant?

  5. tell them brother Dennis Allen

  6. Well at the rate they sell crack cocaine on charlotte and george street, and the availability of weed basically everyfucking where in Trinidad, why bother legalizing it
    I can literally go anywhere in Trinidad and spot dealers. Its a joke.

  7. Aye …. nobody eh legalizing one ass until the rest of the world do it first. Just like nobody eh going and diversify the economy until fossil fuel get render obsolete and the world switch tuh renewable energy.

    • that switch to renewables is something that most governments will embrace because it places the burden of supply on the individual consumer and takes away the governmental responsibility—and the drain on the coffers.
      to supply a town of 1000 people with power the government or a quasi-governmental agency needs to invest millions into a grid infrastructure.
      with renewables, that’s all on the land developer and the home owners.
      The issue here is the level of home ownership and the renters. a landlord dropping $30k to get a house on solar is not seen as a viable investment because that’s 5 years of a HIGH domestic usage or 10+ of regular usage from TTEC.

    • And I’m telling you that Trinidad will continue relying exclusively on fossil fuel dollars up until the world switches to renewable energy because the culture of governance in this country is irresponsibility.
      Have you seen any real moves being made to diversify the economy EVER?

    • Earl Best

      Tut tut, Vernal, such pessimism! Does the Good Book not say that the last shall be first? All you need is faith and patience.

    • I wish I could say that you were wrong. All our governments are the very epitome of conservatism and lack of foresight.

  8. honestly…i have a lot of questions about how much violent crime will decrease under a legal weed scenario.
    weed is only one aspect of the violent crime picture in T&T. to me, cocaine is a much more significant factor. most street corner ganja man don’t sell coke. very seldom you will hear about somebody get blaze because of some ganja scene. it’s usually cocaine, gun rentals, splitting up loot from heists and domestic violence—which is by far the most likely to be unaffected by legal weed.

    • When weed gone….it easy to spot a crack zone…so hopefully police could target the real criminals.
      No doubt we have real problems with different aspects but the weed antics clogging the judicial system.
      We could just hope we follow in the footsteps of Amsterdam

  9. Even so legalizing it will reduce the killings

  10. time we stopped and smelled the collie
    one mature marijuana plant can produce about a pound of pods. this is the preferred material. what we call “sensimilla”—the unfertilized seed pod that is loaded with THC. this is the unicorn of the ganja trade. This is what can get anywhere from €50–100 euro a gram.
    Work your SEA math: two trees = 1 KG. 1,000grams x €100 euros = serious money.
    at preferred crop spacing one acre is about 10,000 trees.
    Properly managed, one acre can yield 5,000 KG of sensimilla. in a low market, that’s about quarter million euros. In a high-end, boutique market, this is commanding half million euros per acre.
    This is not including the leaf stock. or branch stock—both of which are useful for conversion into oils for the aroma therapy and homeopathic medicine markets.
    if you hire 5 people per acre, which is typical for the industry, you’re looking at WAYYYYY more than the $250 TTD a day farm labourers making these days.

    • Earl Best

      So, Taye, when are you publishing the rest of your weighty thesis? Sharing the introductory chapter with Wired868’s readers won’t make you Dr Allen although it might make you ultimately rich, which is, I suppose , better…

    • I see someone quitting the media to be a consultant in an unrelated field soon. 🙂

    • sings…
      “16 acres of hiiiiigh gradddde!”
      hahahah

    • all kicks aside…we got a lot to learn from them hydro men in the states and europe. what we have that they dont is a 365 grow season.
      every soil profile will give a regional characteristic to the weed….like french grapes…so a Moruga grade will not taste the same as a 9 Mile grade. we have to understand these things very early in the game. we are already far behind.

    • We not so far behind. We just need to link the stars and satellites.
      Have your 25acres seek me out or pass on the info please.

  11. i’ve personally been to a 9 acre ganja farm in 9 Mile, Jamaica.
    9 acres of high grade. a small holding, as i was told.
    Up there “bush weed” grows innocuously on the side of the road, on the hillside, near the many cisterns that dot the hills to catch water during the rainy season.
    If ganja was legal, TOMORROW Jamaica would be ready to roll out an internationally-acceptable, globally branded high-quality product. They can thank Bob Marley for this.
    Here, in Biche, Moruga and Parlatuvier, T&T has the best growing conditions for an exceptionally potent grade of smoke. No less a connoisseur of “grade’ than Buju Banton can attest to the quality and potency of the best in show from these districts.
    However, compared to Jamaica, T&T is a dot. A friend recently negotiated the purchase of 25 acres in Matelot. A former citrus orchard. Perfect growing conditions for some grade.
    We have to stop looking at marijuana as the pungent reminder of some rebellious Rastaman trying to bull we daughter and start seeing it for what it is—a PLANT. and one with many remarkable properties desired by a global audience. and one that requires only some dirt and water and a little ingenuity to be able to generate significant hard currency incomes.
    check the next part on how much exactly

  12. Been saying this for 2 years now.

  13. I don’t even know why people bother to publish their fantasies as journalism.
    For decades Trinidad’s various administrations have ALL seen no value in diversifying the country’s economy in even the most basic and traditional ways because simply put it is not how the individuals that made up those administrations prospered, does anyone really believe there is even the slightest chance that legalized marijuana will be considered as a means of economic diversification?
    Dream on, dreaming is free!

  14. The tough part is that the idea has only come when economies are desperate for money. What is the principle behind this move?

  15. I think the potential benefits of a legalised industry outweigh the potential pitfalls. At the end of the day I also believe it’s an idea whose time has come. If it makes a dent in the clogged legal system filled with youths who got caught taking “two pull” that’s a sure win.