The current discussion and exchange of views with regard to the consideration of the decriminalisation of marijuana/cannabis/Indian Hemp needs to be carried out with a comprehensive knowledge of the circumstances existing at the time of it being deemed illegal in the 1930s.
At that time, the use of marijuana was associated with the “lower, under-privileged and marginalised classes” of West Indian and Mexican immigrants in North America. Also, the spreading of the many myths concerning the plant were originating mainly from persons of the middle and upper classes who themselves used alcohol rather than the herb and who more often had no direct experience with it or with the persons who used it.
In recent years in the Caribbean, this anti-marijuana lobby has existed in the service clubs and church groups of the same middle and upper classes of our communities.
One must also mention that the 1930s was a period in American history when the pharmaceutical industry was being introduced with the invention of drugs such as aspirin being promoted as a new “miracle drug” as the substitute for the traditional herbal medicines of the past.
We should also be cognisant of the fact that conspiracy theories associated with the properties and use of marijuana have always prevailed in Western society. In the document, Marijuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding, First Report of the National Commission on Marijuana and drug Abuse (1972), it is mentioned that “marijuana was incorrectly classified as a narcotic drug in scientific literature and statutory provisions”.
The Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914 was one such act which fell into this category. The lesson learnt here is that legislation based on false premises can eventually lead to creation of “crimes” that result in profiling and stigmatising of those who are themselves not criminals at all.
In recent times in North America as well as right here in Barbados, young black males in particular have been falling into this category and have either lost their lives while in police custody or been incarcerated for a variety of basic misdemeanours.
The overall mind-set of law-enforcement officers is evident with respect to persons with dreadlocks, especially when seen in coastal areas. Young men and women in many cases are routinely stopped and searched only to find a small quantity of herb on their person and then imprisoned at the expense of the taxpayers.
First world countries however, including an increasing number of US states, have rejected the idea of imprisoning most of their youth generation thus making it more difficult to gain employment when they are released, and burdening their unstable economies with the over-population of correctional facilities.
They have finally acted against supporting a growing trend of “prison industries” in which the construction of such facilities has outstripped the construction of additional schools and skills training institutions in recent decades.
Jack Herer, in his publication, The Emperor wears no Clothes also states that “global militarisation” by the West and “gangsters” can be identified as sectors that will not support any legalisation or decriminalisation of marijuana. Readers should take note however that from a medical perspective, Marijuana Myths — Marijuana Facts: a review of the scientific evidence compiled by Lynn Zimmer and John P. Morgan can enlighten us on the pros and cons related to the so-called effects of marijuana.
We conclude by emphasising that prior to 1937, a plant/herb which was cultivated and used for multiple purposes without any destructive societal consequences around the world regardless of culture or ethnicity, has now been demonised and criminalised to such an extent that one is left to ponder on what is the real agenda with respect to its illegal classification.
Our organisation is humbly suggesting that any initiative that is considering finding solutions in favour of decriminalisation of marijuana, should involve grass roots organisations and community activists in order that a balanced and unbiased knowledge base is established.
Let us not be guilty of “framing mischief by a law”.
* Ras I-Ral Jabari is the chairman of Ichirouganaim Council for the Advancement of Rastafari