Last week personnel from the Drug Squad of the Royal Barbados Police Force conducted a drugs burning exercise, which as far as we are concerned was as much about public relations as it was about security.
Assisted by personnel and equipment from the Barbados Defence Force, a staunch and reliable supporter of lawmen in their battle against drug traffickers, the officers took about $43 million worth of marijuana and cocaine to the incinerator at the Grantley Adams International Airport, where it was destroyed.
While police on the scene of the operation noted that the quantity of drugs posed a health risk to personnel who had to work within the area where it was stored prior to its destruction, we also believe that it was sensible to use the provisions of the law to retain only samples for prosecution purposes while destroying the bulk because it also posed a major security risk.
$43 million worth of a tradable commodity, whether or not the trade is illegal, must pose a serious temptation both to persons within and outside of the force. We recognise that some will take offence to any suggestion that a policeman would want to get his hand on some portion of that stash — but policemen are only human.
Similarly, even our criminals, bad as they would want us to believe they are at times, have so far been quite limited, even timid, in the manner of their confrontations with police. But, as seen elsewhere, it would appear that the nature of man is to get bolder and it would only be a matter of time before someone concludes that it is far less time consuming to take from the police storeroom than to go through the challenges of importing or growing.
Periodic destruction can only serve to lessen the temptation.
On the issue of burning drugs as a public relations exercise, we believe that the action by police last week was also to send a message to would-be traffickers that the force continues to present a formidable obstacle to the contamination of society, especially our youth, with illegal drugs. In the drug dealing world we believe that $43 million must represent a substantial loss in business.
But we believe we also ought to consider another side to this matter. If we accept that the cops only manage to confiscate a portion, a fraction, of what is grown and/or landed in Barbados, then it means that substantially much more than $43 million in illegal drugs trading is occurring in Barbados. Big business by any measure.
It is quite clear from all we have been hearing that local cops, supported by the Coast Guard and the Regional Security System and the network of seaward looking radars, have had much success in intercepting shipments of marijuana from St. Vincent and elsewhere in the region. It is also quite clear that they have been eradicating increasing quantities of locally grown ganja — and herein lies our biggest worry.
The increasing number of marijuana plots being uncovered by the cops says to us that while we should cheer at the lawmen’s success, we should be also getting more worried about the increasing growth. Up to last week police had confiscated around 13,000 marijuana plants for the year — compared with about 21,000 for the whole of last year.
Marijuana cultivation is on the opposite trajectory to sugarcane — while the latter is characterised by a precipitous fall in production, the former appears to be benefitting from the easy availability of brush-covered, highly arable land.
We may find it quite hard to estimate the ratio between marijuana plants seized here and the actual overall production, but it can’t be unreasonable to conclude that the fact that growers continue to operate, even in the face of their seizure, that the reward outstrips the risk.
This is not a matter for the cops only. This is a matter for the society. If we use our land for productive, legitimate crops, as was once the case with sugarcane, space for marijuana growers would be drastically reduced. And if we saw it as our business to share information on illegal activities with law enforcers, the growers would find their profits — incentives to continue — considerably diminished.
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