by NOW Grenada, Curlan Campbell
- In 2018 Prime Minister indicated willingness to further examine criminal aspect of marijuana
- Indiscriminate use of marijuana in public spaces has become problematic
- Majority of incarcerations in Grenada for drug-related offences are for possession of marijuana
“Nah Goa Jail, Said me Nah Goa Jail, Fe ganja no more, I’m a Nah Goa Jail” — from Peter Tosh’s track Nah Goa Jail from his 1987 debut album No Nuclear War.
The question being asked by Rastafarians who still feel victimised and stigmatised by the system over a plant that is used for sacrificial purposes, is should the Government of Grenada rethink its stance on decriminalising cannabis, since many neighbouring islands have either moved to decriminalise small portions for household use, or for use for medical research as in the case of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines?
Small scale marijuana farmer “J” is of that view and he patiently awaits government’s response to the growing pressure that will eventually arise as neighbouring Caribbean territories soften their cannabis laws given the changing attitudes and approaches to marijuana use around the world.
The identity of “J” is protected as possession of cannabis in Grenada still carries hefty fines and penalties, including autonomy given to the magistrate to impose a maximum fine of EC$250,000 for possession of marijuana and incarceration for five years or more.
At present, Jamaica, Belize, Saint Vincent and The Grenadines, and Antigua and Barbuda have taken steps to legalise small amounts of cannabis. Under the Misuse of Drugs Act 2018, Antigua and Barbuda has gone as far as allowing each family to legally cultivate up to 4 plants for personal use, and has considered expunging the convictions for those jailed over the decades.
In Belize, legislation such as the Misuse of Drugs Act 2017 decriminalises the possession of cannabis in amounts not exceeding ten grams and provides for the imposition of monetary and non-recordable penalties for the possession of cannabis in such amounts occurring on school premises, in specified circumstances, to decriminalise the smoking of cannabis on private premises. Closer to home, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines became the first OECS member to decriminalise cannabis for medical purposes and scientific research.
In July 2019, the island also issued its first set of licences to begin producing medicinal cannabis to 8 local farmers producer cooperatives, 13 traditional cultivators of cannabis, 10 companies, and 3 non-traditional local farmers.
J cultivates the Sativa strain in his backyard from seeds he imported from places like Canada. He was eager to speak his mind regarding the slow pace at which the Grenadian authorities are moving with regards to what he describes as an important issue to be addressed.
He lamented that a significant amount of the nation’s youth are still unemployed and those who aren’t, still struggle to make ends meet. He believes that the marijuana industry will be the avenue that will take impoverished people out of poverty and will be an avenue to evade what he describes as corporate exploitation of the workforce due to low wages. “Most times you are working hand to mouth, bill to bill, you can’t even save a dollar so it is really tough out here. So you have to resort to something else illegal to make some money or to feed your family because personally, everybody wants to leave a legacy for their children.”
J said it is high time that the government puts the issue of decriminalisation before the public in the form of a referendum. “I strongly believe that our neighbours are slacking up on their marijuana laws, and we, as we say in local terms, Grenada is the monkey in the middle because eventually after everybody [start] benefiting off of it, we are going to look at it and realise we could and it will be too late. And I would really like to see some dialogue in parliament about at least thinking about decriminalising marijuana or having it for medical use.”
In Grenada, the majority of incarcerations for drug-related offences are for possession of marijuana. Drug Control Officer at the Drug Control Secretariat, Ministry of Education, Dave Alexander, said despite advances towards decriminalisation of cannabis in some Caribbean countries, for the most part, the possession of marijuana is still considered illegal in Grenada and most Caribbean nations, and this will remain as there is still no directive from the government that this matter should be given priority.
“None of these countries has opened up entirely to the legalisation of marijuana, but what they are saying is that possession of small quantities is permitted, but in excess, then you can be charged. But Grenada has not taken that position, remember Grenada is a sovereign country that determines its laws and regulations and so Grenada continues to remain that cannabis is a controlled drug.”
Alexander did say that the decriminalisation of marijuana in some countries in the region will ultimately have an adverse effect on Grenada. “It would have an effect on us in the sense that if neighbouring countries are doing it, people here would call for that, but as to the government’s position, they continue to maintain that is still a controlled drug and if and when it changes its position, well then we have to deal with that accordingly.”
The call for the government to rethink its stance on cannabis decriminalisation is also being made by Pastor Stanford Simon of the St George’s Baptist Church in his personal capacity. Showing his support to having this discussion on a national level, Pastor Simon believes the time has come to have a more objective approach to this issue, bearing in mind that once done properly Grenada stands to benefit more economically from cannabis decriminalisation, while putting an end to the disenfranchisement and incarceration of some of the country’s productive members of society.
“The USA used to send planes and helicopters to destroy Saint Vincent and Grenada’s marijuana, which used to produce some of the best marijuana in the world. I have read an article which proves that over the years they knew what they were doing and what they have done was that they have raided and taken the seeds and re-engineered them in some way and then ship it back for us to consume… The multinational corporation wanted to destroy the marijuana that we have in this part of the world now, wants to be the lord and master of it, which is just another form of slavery and colonialism.”
Pastor Simon is of the view that legalising marijuana, once properly regulated in the same manner as alcohol and tobacco, can become a profitable venture since this removes the criminal aspect of possession which can ultimately lead to the establishment of legitimate businesses.
Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Simon Dickson said the RGPF has seen the adverse effect that the race for cannabis cultivation and foreign investment in neighbouring Saint Vincent and The Grenadines is having on Grenada, especially when it comes to drug interdiction. Local law enforcement has seen an increase in seizures of cannabis from Saint Vincent with several Vincentians detained for drug trafficking. More seriously is the emergence of a more potent strain of cannabis being imported from South America that can fetch higher prices on the market.
“We have seen an increase in cannabis coming from out of South America, which is what they call Creepy. Creepy is more potent than the weed coming out of St Vincent. It is priced probably four times higher than the price of weed coming out of St Vincent, so we have seen different strains of marijuana from around the region here in Grenada,” said ASP Dickson.
In 2018, the Drug Squad of the Royal Grenada Police Force (RGPF) experienced a record-breaking year for the seizure of cannabis, confiscating over 4,178 kilograms, the majority of which came from Saint Vincent. This year so far, the drug squad has seized over 1,451 kilograms and through the raiding of dealers has confiscated over 1,208 wrapped cannabis cigarettes. This represents a sharp decline when compared to 2017 where 3,000 wrapped portions were seized.
ASP Dickson said the increase in the indiscriminate use of marijuana in public spaces in areas such as “Jamrock” in the Town of St George’s near the Market Square has become problematic. Despite the noticeable increase in the use of marijuana in public spaces which is still an arrestable offence, ASP Dickson said officers will use their discretion when dealing with such cases since the cost to send an individual to court for possession of a small quantity of marijuana is a waste of court time and resources. “When you equate the cost of taking them to court for a joint and he comes out just paying $100. All the work and effort, time and paperwork and everything that is put in to take him to court again, doesn’t make sense, but let me hasten to say it is still in law and you can still be arrested for it.”
Strict laws criminalising cannabis in Grenada is spelled out clearly in the Drug Abuse (Prevention and Control) Act.
In 2018 Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell addressed the matter by indicating his willingness to further examine the criminal aspect of marijuana. “More and more we are hearing about countries who are placing less importance on criminalising the use of marijuana and other forms of recreational drugs, but it’s an area we have to examine. Maybe in a sense while we have one smoking a joint of marijuana is considered to be a criminal offence, we may have to examine to some extent that area of activity, because we want to spend the police time in dealing with many more major problems than just having to confront one using a joint or two of marijuana outside,” he said.