Just last month, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves of St Vincent and the Grenadines yet again called for what he termed a collective Caribbean approach to the trade and other benefits of marijuana cultivation in the region.
In the strong suggestion made right here in Barbados, at the launch of the 40th anniversary celebrations of the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies, Dr Gonsalves in his address recommended that studies be carried out, which would require the establishment of a Caribbean Marijuana Commission.
These studies would point to a means of making the drug crop economically useful to the islands, in particular an alternative to the banana-growing ones.
Dr Gonsalves envisioned the cultivation of marijuana as a more productive crop for every regional state.
The prime minister argued that after 50 years of commercial banana production some of our islands had become disaster-prone, and that it was time CARICOM did some serious research on marijuana as a viable regional commercial product.
Caribbean economists and other relevant professionals, including those in the pharmaceutical industry, should be ahead of the curve in this research, he stressed.
Dr Gonsalves may have shocked some of us –– but only those who have not been giving him an ear generally.
Some three years ago, the goodly doctor had sung a similar tune. Then, he had stopped short of the research and was content with just having “a region-wide conversation” on the perceived medical marijuana. Ironically, at the time he insisted he was not calling for the legalization of the drug in response to his detractors.
Then, as is his concern now, CARICOM, he figured, could be lagging behind the “inevitable legitimization” of medical marijuana globally. Dr Gonsalves saw the region possibly consuming –– through legal importation –– medical and cosmetic products derived from the drug grown and produced in the likes of the United States, when we could be producing the very same here in the Caribbean –– we add, even if not at a cheaper price.
The questions that hover above us like the billowing smoke from a marijuana joint itself though are: how do we benefit from medical marijuana if there is no legality in growing and harvesting the plant? Who in any case would be given permission to be a grower and harvester? And how would the state ensure every marijuana plant went the medical route?
However you twist the joint, decriminalizing marijuana use seems the only logical way to Dr Gonsalves’ attainment. Of course, there is nothing original or distinctive about that position. Others, before the prime minister’s recommendation, have been pleading for marijuana’s legalization –– since the 1970s. There have been those doctors and lawyers who too have been politically correctly promoting its medicinal value and benefit.
Indeed, the drug lords would have visualized some legal business viability as a spin-off –– a consequence of which could be a striking disadvantage to the Rastafarians who over the many years had extolled marijuana’s holiness.
Of course, the medical marijuana theory has always met opposition as, no doubt, it will continue to. Its opposers argue that the plant fails to meet the standard requirements for approved medicine, some presenting “documented evidence” of serious negative health effects –– all against its use in the Caribbean by some islanders as a tea for stress relief and a variety of other ailments.
Strangely enough, some years ago, the British medical journal Lancet which opined that smoking cannabis, even long-term, was not harmful to health, further observed “it would be reasonable to judge cannabis as less of a threat . . . than alcohol or tobacco”.
Mentally alert as Dr Gonsalves is, he must be aware of these inconsistencies about marijuana use; and these might very well be the catalyst for his call for that “region-wide conversation” and Caribbean Marijuana Commission for research. The other challenge for the Vincentian prime minister is that not a single other CARICOM leader to date has publicly addressed his hope and aspiration.
We have a highly educated and somewhat reasoned mind making a strong case for ordered and group marijuana utilization, despite that the herb –– for all its touted medicinal magic –– yet reportedly impairs logical thinking and benumbs the mind; conditions we thought would be restricted to users of the drug.
It never occurred to us that Dr Gonslaves’ mere talk –– our thought –– of marijuana cultivation might make his fellow Caribbean leaders lethargic and unproductive in response.
Indeed, will they continue to wonder –– and wander?