There’s concern that children in Barbados are smoking marijuana from as early as six-years old.
Tuesday morning, Director of the Criminal Justice and Research Unit Cheryl Willoughby did not say how widespread the problem was, but she told a stakeholders’ meeting for the charity My Child and I that minors in Barbados were now being introduced to the illegal drug at kindergarten age.
“We spoke to Dr [Beresford] Connell, a psychiatrist at the Psychiatric Hospital, who stated that traditionally, marijuana use began in teenage years, as a direct result of the adolescent nature to experiment. However, within recent times Dr Connell has seen an increasing number of patients who indicated that they were introduced to marijuana by friends or family members from the early age of seven,” Willoughby reported.
She also revealed that inmates at Dodds Prison had disclosed that they were introduced to the drug between ages six and nine by family and friends.
“So we can no longer think that our intervention must be at the secondary school level. We now have to look at educating our little ones from as early as kindergarten, because if we can teach them about safe drugs, and about taking medication and about the dangerous drugs and so on, I believe that at some point in time it will be less stress,” she said.
The Director of the Criminal Justice and Research Unit also reiterated her emphatic “no” to the question of whether marijuana should be decriminalized here, while highlighting the findings of a 2015 survey on the extent of marijuana use in Barbados.
“In that study I determined that we need to keep marijuana as an illegal drug in Barbados, based on the evidence that came out of our research when we went into the Psychiatric Hospital, Verdun House, and all other treatment centres. We also went into the prison and we spoke to persons incarcerated, not only for drugs but also for serious crimes.
“And some of the recommendations that we put out in that project came from those inmates. And some of them begged us to keep marijuana as an illegal drug. So that was my recommendation to the Attorney General,” Willoughby stressed.
She further pointed out that between 2009 and 2014, 3,412 people were charged for marijuana-related offences, with males making up to 94 per cent of that figure. The most prevalent age group was 20-29, followed by the 30-39 category.
Willoughby also addressed what she said was the myth that most individuals charged and jailed for marijuana were incarcerated for possessing “a simple spliff”.
“Over 98 per cent of persons who are charged for a spliff, they get community service or they are worked with by social workers,” she explained, adding that with the introduction of a drug treatment court here, more work was being done in the area of rehabilitation.
“So no one is incarcerating persons who are found with a spliff,” she said.
“The medical model is being applied to persons who are at risk, but you would find that those persons who are actually given sentences for marijuana, they have outstanding warrants, they’re on bail, or they were charged for trafficking, or possession near a school or something more serious,” Willoughby added.
Just last week, the leader of the fledgling Barbados Integrity Movement (BIM) Neil Holder issued a promise to decriminalize marijuana if his party wins the next general election, constitutionally due next year.
During an interview with Barbados TODAY, Holder expressed concern that too many young people were being incarcerated for having “a spliff or two”, and that both families and Government were paying dearly as a result of the jailing of men in particular.
“We have scenarios today where the girlfriends, wives or better halves find themselves in a situation where there is no breadwinner. The girlfriends are then forced to go to the Welfare Department to be maintained,” Holder said at the time, while estimating that it costs Government approximately $2,600 a month to maintain every prisoner.