Not so fast!
That is the unequivocal message that Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite has sent to advocates of the decriminalization of marijuana.
In fact, Brathwaite has asked those calling to free the weed to pay a visit to Verdun House, the Centre for Counselling Addiction Support Alternatives (CASA), the Psychiatric Hospital and Her Majesty’s Prisons Dodds to see first hand, the damage that the abuse of both legal and illegal substances was doing to the young people of Barbados.
The debate over ganja use had been ongoing here for a number of years, going through periods of highs and lows. The discussion reached another high this week when Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines advocated for it to be considered as a possible cash crop to replace dwindling returns from bananas.
Delivering a lecture at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill campus on Monday night, Gonsalves said that globally, especially in the United States and Europe, the marijuana business was emerging from “the shadow of illegality to a more enlightened decriminalization, particularly in respect of medical marijuana and small quantities of the herb for recreational and religious or sacramental use”.
And he called for a collective Caribbean approach to studying the trade and other benefits of marijuana cultivation to the region.
And yesterday, former Minister of Social Transformation Hamilton Lashley supported the call, saying it was high time Barbados and its regional neighbours sought to make use of the herb, especially for medicinal purposes.
However, Brathwaite today indicated he had not yet been convinced of the benefits of legalization or decriminalization of marijuana. And he repeated his previously stated position that he would not be hurried into making a decision on the issue.
“I have been consistent in my response to the decriminalization of marijuana. We need to do the research which is being done in terms of the health consequences, the cost to society overall and the cost to the individuals overall before we go ahead. That is why my contention has been we need to ensure that we do the right thing because I see the other side also,” he told Barbados TODAY at the launch of the Citizen Security Facilities Project at Hastings, Christ Church.
Government’s chief lawyer suggested that there was more harm than good in legalizing the drug and argued that it was being used as the gateway to more potent and harmful illicit substances such as cocaine.
He also contended that even those who claim not to have been negatively affected by its use display obvious symptoms.
“Marijuana has been around for a long time, for generations. However, part of the problem is the fact that many individuals graduate to the other substances with the attendant consequences, and that is my concern.
“There are people who tell you they have been smoking for years and that nothing has happened to them. More often than not when I speak to those people I know they have been smoking for years because you can see it in their mannerisms. So whether they accept it or not it does make them exhibit some qualities which lead me to say, ‘you see him, he smokes or you see her, she smokes’ . . . you need to . . . go into the prison, have a chat with the officers in prison and get a sense as to the number of individuals who are incarcerated because of their use and abuse of legal and illegal substances.”
Brathwaite contended that the Vincentian leader’s position would be different because St Vincent and the Grenadines had its own idiosyncrasies.
He claimed that marijuana cultivation had been a way of life in that country for generations.
“That is the reality that Dr Gonsalves has been faced with for many years. Under these circumstances it is not by accident that his voice has been a champion because that is his reality in St Vincent,” Brathwaite explained.
Still, he said, even as an advocate of the cause, Gonsalves insisted on a scientific study.
“Gonsalves did not say that we should automatically ensure that marijuana should be legalized across the Caribbean region.”
Champions of decriminalization of marijuana often argue that alcohol has a more damning effect on society.
The Attorney General said he was aware that a number of households were destroyed and the lives of an unknown number of children were ruined due to alcoholism.
Still, he argued, this did not mean it was right to use marijuana.