By Kellon Bubb
Law enforcement authorities in Grenada and other English-speaking Caribbean countries are always eager to shore up their competence as effective marijuana warriors by parading before assembled press, large quantities of uprooted marijuana trees which are then subsequently destroyed by fire in a blaze of glory. Their eagerness to always display their “spoils of war” in the fight against marijuana cultivation, possession and consumption is emblematic of our warped priorities as a small island nation.
While law enforcement is always quick and proactive in responding to marijuana crimes, the same can’t be said of their response to incidents of domestic violence and other violent crimes in communities across Grenada. While they’re able to travel in convoy to raid marijuana farms, they conversely are unable to respond to some calls of domestic abuse in disparate communities across Grenada due to a lack of transportation and other basic resources. But I digress.
I hold the view that Grenada and the rest of the region must give serious consideration to the decriminalization of marijuana, thus paving the way for its utilization as a recreational and medicinal herb, and as a new economic enterprise in the 21st century. The naysayers and sceptics will predictably throw cold water on this idea, but it is these forward thinking, revolutionary ideas that will propel Grenada into the 21st century.
An island which is mired with the albatross of debt amounting to a whopping US$907 million, of which only $262 million is being restructured by the IMF, and a debt to GDP ratio of 110.2% certainly doesn’t present an attractive narrative for future prospects of robust economic growth. Our economy is still very prohibitive to agriculture, industry and services (tourism), our import bill as of 2014 stood at US$297 million, and we only exported $40.5 million in goods and services to our traditional trading partners last year.
As if these depressing economic indicators weren’t enough, the unemployment rate continues to stagger between 30-33%, a large percentage of which are youth between the ages of 18–25. Nothing says “brain drain” like an economy that can’t provide robust and sustainable employment opportunities for its most productive and optimistic age group. While a rethink on marijuana use in Grenada isn’t the panacea of our current economic flux, it certainly adds a new layer to our current economic facade which will in many respects help to diversify our rigid economy.
Arguments against marijuana decriminalization are many, including the Grenadian law-enforcement view which made the point in the 2010 book, “Crime and Punishment Around the World” that the proliferation of marijuana on island only aids in the expansion of the drug trade between North and South America. They also attempt to establish a relationship between marijuana possession and gang activity, but failed to provide supporting evidence of such a link.
There are others who advance the health argument, and these are very legitimate concerns. One would be naïve to believe that marijuana, when consumed in smoke form for sustained periods of time won’t affect liver and memory functions, or cause bronchitis or other associated health issues. It is also fair to argue that marijuana can pose a substantial risk of addiction. While it is difficult to know just how many people are addicted to marijuana, a study endorsed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) suggests that in the United States about 9% of people who use marijuana will become abusers.
The same argument can sadly be made with respect to our eating and dietary habits. It is very easy to establish linkages between the uninhibited consumption of processed foods laden with fat and high fructose corn syrup, and manageable lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and obesity, to more debilitating diseases. We tend to ignore the fact that addictive properties are found in our foods, but it is those properties, hidden in plain sight that does more harm than good than marijuana ever will, if properly utilized. Studies have also found that cannabis is less addictive than nicotine, alcohol and even caffeine, according to research by scientists at the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
While these are important caveats to consider, we should also be open to the potential positive impact it has proven to have in many first-world countries, and use their positive experiences as the blue print for navigating a new course towards destination economic salvation in Grenada and the rest of the English speaking Caribbean. Economies originally established by the British and the French to meet the demands of their industrial revolution haven’t had the chance to wean itself of the legacy of colonialism, as we are still haplessly dependent on industries established 400 years ago for economic development.
Dr Ralph Gonzalves of St Vincent and The Grenadines and Portia Simpson Miller of Jamaica must both be complimented for advocating the cause of marijuana decriminalization in the region. Jamaica deserves special mention as they have taken baby steps to ensure that the possession of small quantities of marijuana won’t incur the wrath of imprisonment. These steps are commendable but doesn’t even begin to espouse the merits of marijuana as an economic alternative.
Marijuana decriminalization should adopt three-point approach, including the reform of current marijuana enforcement and sentencing laws, a plan to introduce strictly enforced recreational and medicinal marijuana services, and the development of a well-regulated marijuana farming and cultivation economic sector.
The sequel to this discussion will attempt to expand on this three-point plan, as I hold firmly to the view that Grenada can accomplish economic redemption by courageously embracing this revolutionary idea whose time has come for economies desperately in need to new life. It is a counterproductive exercise to destroy marijuana plants which are used to reap billion dollar profits for economies in Western Europe and the United States.