“Police burned millions of dollars worth of marijuana plants,” announced a newspaper headline last week, not for the first time. Not for the first time, we dismissed the story simply as the drug rings at it again and went on with our business and our lives.
But what if we saw cannabis as our business, not just in the MYOB sense but in the larger economic sense of a viable economic diversification option?
Apart from the obvious one that Trinidad and Tobago would join countries like Canada, Portugal and Norway in the decriminalisation of drugs, three important possible consequences suggest themselves to me. Firstly, we would stop jailing “little black boys” for the recreational use of cannabis. Secondly, the agricultural sector—and the economy—would find a potential foreign exchange earner to give it a much-needed boost and finally, T&T would benefit from early mover advantage in the commercialisation of cannabis.
Globally, the tide has turned on cannabis. There is a spike in global demand for the herb as attempts are made to satisfy both the recreational and medicinal needs. But while the developed world is consolidating its cannabis business, we in T&T are burning the plants and beating our chests about our performance in the “war against drugs.” Don’t take my word for it; go check out a November 27, 2017 story on CBC Radio Canada titled “Canada’s marijuana industry enters consolidation phase.”
Norway recently announced that it will become the first Scandinavian country to decriminalise drugs. The majority of the Norwegian Parliament backed the historic move and directed the national government to reform its policies on drugs.
Portugal decriminalised the use of drugs as long as 15 years ago and today the Health Ministry in that country “estimates that only about 25,000 Portuguese use heroin, down from 100,000 when the policy began.” Compare that with the US, where, in 2017, around 64,000 persons died of drug overdoses, almost as many people as lost their lives in the Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq Wars combined.
Here in Trinidad and Tobago, I am told, the agricultural conditions are great for us to enter this market as a grower. We were once tobacco farmers so why can’t we become cannabis farmers? Besides, there’s another bird to be killed with this one stone since there’s a good chance that young people, so turned off by agriculture at present, will be attracted to cultivating “de herb.”
Decriminalising marijuana would free up police time, allowing them to deal, we all have to hope, with generally improving the detection rare and particularly with solving murders. The practice of charging persons for the recreational use of cannabis is known to encourage corruption among police officers who willingly accept “ah lil change” not to press charges. In addition, presumably busy with other police duties—ha!—police officers further clog up the already overburdened justice system by not turning up in court when they do charge a “youth man.”
Some people object to decriminalising the use of cannabis on the grounds that It is a gateway drug; the empirical evidence simply does not support that notion. People who abuse drugs to their detriment are sick and should be dealt with by the health care system, not the penal system.
I am not, mind you, advocating leniency on drug traffickers. Nor am I advocating legalising drug use. What I am advocating is an enlightened approach to the use of cannabis and a focus on the commercialisation of this plant which has been around for more than over 10,000 years!
Cannabis cultivation is a train T&T needs to ride, maybe even drive. So, people, let’s do this! #yeswecannabis.
Not condemning, just commenting.