Follow-up to The Case for Marijuana Decriminalization: Part 1
By Kellon Bubb
Engendering and embracing change in our fledgling Caribbean democracies is always a difficult proposition to advance, especially by those who are content with maintaining the current status quo on a myriad of issues that sadly, keeps us stuck in a perpetual state of underdevelopment. It’s quite ironic that in our quest to become politically independent entities, we are still trapped by the same experiences and contexts that are the legacies of colonialism and slavery.
Our constitution and judicial systems, except for a flurry of amendments to a number of laws since Independence are still very much a throwback to pre-1974 British Grenada. So while our former colonial masters are more than happy to modernize their societies, we’re more than happy to be the oath keepers of their laws, which have been used as instruments of oppression against the black underclass in our societies.
The marijuana question is a perfect example of the extent to which our desire to stick with the past precludes us making a clean break with the past. In this follow-up article, I’ve attempted to outline the road map through which this very contested proposition can be accomplished. Its certainly not a panacea for our economic woes, but the hope is that the ideas expressed will be a platform through which we can, as young and forward-thinking citizens of Grenada can begin a serious discourse around marijuana decriminalization.
Drug enforcement and sentencing reform
I find it abhorrent that a citizen convicted of rape, manslaughter or murder can receive the same penalty as someone convicted of marijuana possession. Unless drug and law enforcement officials can provide a credible link between marijuana possession and criminal conduct then it is fair to conclude that we are treating this as a matter of irrational fear.
The fact is, while some marijuana suppliers may have criminal intent, the most prominent incidences of crime in Grenada include domestic violence, pre-meditated murder and manslaughter, rape and sexual harassment, housebreaking and stealing, and paredial larceny. Non-violent drug offenses should never carry the same penalty as violent offenses, and the Grenadian taxpayer shouldn’t have to foot the bill to accommodate a prisoner whose crime of marijuana possession is incongruent with the sentence they receive in a court of law.
This is not to suggest that decriminalization should open the floodgates to lack of regulation or enforcement. We should have the capacity to enforce the consumption of marijuana in line with current regulations surrounding the sale and consumption of alcohol and tobacco.
Marijuana Cultivation Mandate
It is very possible that in the last decade, law enforcement officials in Grenada destroyed more than US$100 million worth of cannabis trees, and wasted resources, which should have been diverted in the fight against domestic violence, and other violent crime. It is also very possible, that the marijuana growers could have had the opportunity to diversify and profit from cultivating marijuana plants for medicinal and recreational purposes.
While the marijuana legalization debate is still very polarizing in the United States, we can look to the States within the US that have witnessed a boom in the diversification of its agricultural sector as a result of marijuana cultivation. In five states (California, Tennessee, Kentucky, Hawaii and Washington), marijuana crops worth over $1 billion were produced in the last year, and have surpassed the value of the production of soybean and wheat crops combined.
Additionally, Grenada can position its farmers to be specialist distributors of the crop locally and internationally to markets where marijuana is already legal. There is always a need for new varieties of the plant and that can certainly bolster our stagnant agricultural economy.
It must be noted however that not all of the money to be made will come from selling marijuana to consumers as a drug. While only the female buds of the plant cannabis sativa contain adequate levels of the chemical THC (tetra-9-hydrocannibol) to cause a “high,” the rest of the plant has a variety of applications that may pique the interest of small and big business alike, as well as pharmaceutical companies engaged in the business of providing medical marijuana services to patients with deliberating and acute illnesses.
Recreational and Medical Marijuana use
Adults over 21 in Grenada should be able to legally possess at least an ounce of marijuana for recreational purposes in the same way they do with alcohol and tobacco. The argument that attempts to prove marijuana smoking is just as detrimental as cigarette smoking is a patently dishonest one, as while cigarette and marijuana smoke contain some of the same carcinogens as cigarettes, the latter have demonstrated to have more nicotine and cause significantly more harm than marijuana, which contains cannabinoids.
One can concede that while smoking is the most common way to use marijuana, there are also other methods of consumption that gives its users the ability to minimize or avoid potential harm to the lungs: Ingesting high potency cannabis infused edibles or using a vaporizer which eliminates the marijuana smoke are some very plausible and common alternatives.
In 9 months following the legalization of recreational marijuana in the U.S. State of Colorado, it recorded more than 250 million dollars recreational marijuana sales, over 350 million dollars in medical marijuana sales, and a revenue boon 60.1 million dollars from taxes, licenses and fees. We also have the potential to double our current tourism numbers because what Grenada will offer is an even more superior product among its other Caribbean neighbors.
One should find it disconcerting that only 6% of studies on marijuana analyze its medicinal properties and these studies have been able to discover that most marijuana plants contain cannabidiol (CBD) — which seems to impact the brain without a high— and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — which has pain relieving (and other) properties. These properties have been known to control epileptic seizures, act as a pain reliever for multiple sclerosis, used to treat glaucoma, and most importantly used in preventing the mutation and spread of certain cancer cells.
Medical marijuana as an effective treatment for particular health conditions are now legal in 24 American States, and continues to receive widespread public acceptance by the American medical community. I was stunned to hear Dr. Sanjay Gupta in a CNN Documentary say, “after traveling the world, meeting with medical experts and medical marijuana patients, we have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years in the United States, and I apologize for my own role in that.”
The current state of healthcare for chronic illnesses on our island is minimal at best, and this will be a good window of opportunity to consider how medical marijuana research and development can benefit a population, which struggles to provide very basic health services to it citizens. We must be bold enough to envision a society in which citizens and visitors alike can take comfort in the fact that medical marijuana services are easily and readily available.
Taxation, Regulation and Enforcement
As with every endeavour, there are laws, which govern the cultivation, sale, purchase, consumption and distribution of marijuana. Any decision to decriminalize marijuana should take into consideration various restrictions and rules implemented through legislative, judiciary, and executive action.
A quasi-government regulatory authority should be established to oversee the industry to manage suppliers and farmers, and oversee revenue collection resulting from the sale of marijuana products. Such regulatory authority should also be responsible for revenue collection, quality control, and the export and trade promotion of the new commodity. This is not to suggest that private citizens should be free to grow their own marijuana plants in-house because under current Grenadian law, the sale of alcohol and tobacco is licensed to commercial merchants. The Law enforcement function in this equation is also important since consuming more than the legal limit should incur fines and imprisonment.
Grenada is currently well-positioned to embrace this new future, and should be challenged to join the rising tide of optimism on the “green” future, filled with endless economic and recreational possibilities.
The alarmists always argue that the introduction of any new concept to our small island will inadvertently corrode the “moral fabric of the society”, using Christian dogma as the basis for justifying ones reluctance to accept change. We should however appreciate that Grenada is intricately woven within the fabric of a global community of nations in which time and space have become obsolete ideas as a result of the proliferation of information and communication technologies. Our resistance to change will always be met by the avalanche of these new ideas such marijuana decriminalization because interconnectivity makes it inevitable.
Citizens should appreciate that the decriminalization of marijuana won’t destroy this very open-ended concept of the “moral fabric”, and certainly won’t disrupt the peaceful disposition we currently enjoy.