While some Barbadians hold strong views against marijuana use, many of them feel people should not be jailed for it.
These emerged as among the most popular views at a recent town hall meeting of the CARICOM Commission on Marijuana. Also among the contending positions were calls for the drug’s use to be decriminalized and questions on why the plant was illegal in the first place.
The Commission, led by University of the West Indies Professor Rose Marie Belle-Antoine, has a region-wide mandate to get opinions of citizens on how marijuana should be regarded in the eyes of the law, and in what form. It takes submission by email, and live presentations.
The Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre was the venue for live presentations from Barbadians on August 27.
Antoine, a law professor, said in its work the Commission was making “a distinction between legalization and decriminalization” of the plant.
She indicated that the mandate had more to do with decriminalization “which means it could still be a law on the statute books but it would not attract criminal penalties, at least for certain targeted offences, as opposed to an all out legalization as was done for alcohol many years ago”.
The first Bajan contributor to the night’s proceedings, Nailia Robinson, said people should not be locked up for a spliff, “but I would be very concerned about sending a message to the young people in our society that we’re embracing marijuana”.
“If we were to decriminalize, this is the message that we would be sending.”
Countering popular suggestions about marijuana being a viable crop for commercial export, she said: “We don’t even grow Bajan cherries in Barbados . . . I don’t think we’re going to have a special brand of Bajan weed that we’re exporting and making billions of dollars.”
Stating that it would take about 20 years to see the full effects of the type of social change which could be brought on by easing enforcement of laws against marijuana, Emile Trotman warned, “decriminalising marijuana use will have long term injurious effects both in terms of its intoxicating aspects and effects associated with smoking.
“It is ironic that after many years of campaigning trying to discourage many young people from smoking, we’re now embarking on decriminalising another aspect of smoking.”
Showing an apparent recognition that the plant will eventually be decriminalized, he suggested it be treated with the same attention given to legal drugs.
“If you decriminalize marijuana, then there should be a campaign to discourage people from using marijuana. The two things should run together.”
Indicating that he was against the criminality of marijuana possession because it causes many young persons to end up in jail, Trotman explained, “At the same time, you should have a vigorous campaign discouraging people from using marijuana.”
Ryan Moseley, an attorney, argued that despite multiple religious beliefs in the region, “most of the Caribbean is Christian, and the popular Christian belief is that God created everything, only God can create”.
“God clearly therefore created marijuana, but we have laws in place where you can lose your freedom and your opportunity for upward mobility in society for conviction of simple possession of something that God put on the Earth.”
Contending, “there is no real benefit of the criminalization of marijuana”, he posited, “the criminalization of marijuana causes criminality”.
“The guns that come into the country are to protect the illegal thing that they inflate the price of because it is illegal.
“Every single time you see a seizure of marijuana at the ports, shortly after that you see a big upsurge in crime . . . because those people who are selling those little five-bags on the corner and sending their children to school, the children now can’t eat.
“Money has to come somewhere and they end up robbing.”
Further, he said that the criminal convictions slapped on young people for possession or use of the plant branded them for life.
“We have a lot of young people can’t get a police certificate of character, so they can’t get a job. What are they going to do?”
In similar vein to Moseley, Government Senator Verla De Peiza said: “I am dismayed as we sit back and allow an entire generation to be criminalized, unable to go to school because if you have that criminal conviction UWI does not want to see you.”
Advising to “not confuse use and abuse”, she said criminal convictions for use and possession of marijuana were resulting in “an entire generation unable to work because the police certificate of character is not clean”. She asked, “How do we in all good conscience allow this to continue?”
David Sandiford, a social worker, was concerned with what he viewed as the double standards of society.
“Whenever they want to say something against marijuana they would look for a vagrant, a ‘paro’ in the street, “ he charged, adding “they will never point to all the UWI graduates”.