The absurd, cruel depths to which our Government has gone to turn entire generations of young people into common criminals for merely possessing small amounts of the herb ganja simply has to end.
The State – made up of fellow Barbadians – has blighted futures, ruined reputations, and foreshortened the careers and contributions of a class of citizens on whose backs we yet intend to build our nation. This is a travesty that is a second form of slavery, a more insidious, latter-day form of an original crime against humanity involving another herb – sugar cane.
The harm that smoking cannabis may cause still developing minds is real. But it is a danger that could be managed with regulation, control, education and targeted health and social care – policies that another, even more deadly drug, alcohol, so dearly needs, and lacks.
This is not a call for full legalization of recreational ganja use – at least not without a coordinated approach that protects our children’s rights to healthy and safe environments. But what environment could be healthy and safe where high-powered automatic weapons are used to enforce territory for the lucrative sale of prohibited cannabis? For that is what is on sale in these communities, not the active, narcotic substances but fear, shame and prohibition itself.
One would have thought that we had learned our lesson. From 1920 to 1933, the United States laboured under a constitutional amendment that prohibited the importation, manufacture, sale and trafficking of alcohol. Prohibition merely begat Hypocrisy, which begat Greed, which begat Corruption, which begat Organized Crime and Violence. Out of this era came not only the ‘speakeasy’, the club which offered admission in hushed tones and served liquor in teapots and cups, but the Mafia, which funded prostitution, gambling, gun-running, rum-running, extortion, bribery and murder.
Yet, half-a-century later, the mindset of a bygone era of error was upgraded with mere colonial animus against vast numbers of young people whose only crime was to smoke a joint.
So, Her Majesty’s Prison Glendairy, followed by Dodd’s, has been the repository for thousands of political prisoners, inmates of conscience – for a five-bag or a joint.
We do not add to this catalogue of the unjustly damned, the gunmen and conmen, the corrupt officials who looked the other way – for a price, no doubt – while weapons, ill-gotten cash and drugs by the boatload poured through porous borders.
But no justice can be done or seen to be done this herb that has been a part of cultures for as long as alcohol and tobacco have, unless the records of young people are expunged of sins that ought not be so called.
Canada, which has joined Uruguay as the only two nations on the planet to fully legalize recreational use of ganja, has sought to erase the historical criminal records of thousands of smokers.
We should do the same.
A bold and brave ask, to be sure. For Barbados is known for gradualism, a euphemistic term for sloth and inertia weighed down by ultraconservative piety.
But just as our nation has been forced to come to terms with markedly changed economic fortunes and a path that is sure to leave our fiscal, government and corporate landscapes unrecognizable from their current state, it is time we shed our zest for divisive social norms that pit human beings against each other, usually in the less-well-off sections of town and country.
And the seemingly Luddite – or dare we say, troglodyte – nature of senior members of our medical profession is due for overhaul. We can discover only Dr. Harley Moseley III – a single doctor in all the realm – is willing to prescribe marijuana for medical use.
This medieval medical thinking persists, despite the vast treasure trove of human knowledge already acquired, and building, in support of the vast medicinal benefits of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive ingredient, and Cannabidiol (CDB), cannabis’s other main compound which does not leave its patients on a proverbial high.
From cannabis, more than 120 distinct pharmaceutical compounds have been developed, to treat a vast array of ailments, from glaucoma – as the Jamaican invention Canasol has done for decades – to shrinking cancerous tumours, to alleviating the side-effects of chemotherapy in a way that causes considerably less harm than morphine and other opioids. This is thanks to a unique fit for our genetic pain receptors and the human body’s long-standing tolerance of these cannabis-derived drugs. The list of pharmaceutical cannabis’s benefits is yet growing.
We do not seek a free-for-all, unregulated, libertarian jungle where the air is choked with heady smoke. We advocate a serious plan for a new cannabis future that balances public health, safety and protection of children with social justice and economic opportunity.
The report of the CARICOM Commission on Marijuana, completed and presented to the Heads of Government, must be shared and discussed widely in the region. There are viable commercial routes that medical marijuana, medical tourism, and yes, recreational tourism, that could be exploited. There certainly ought to be academic freedom – not to light up – but to enlighten us on the benefits of this particular herb and its relations up and down the region through unfettered scientific research.
And there is hemp, which could provide food, fuel and fibre to our foreign exchange-starved economies.
A word, finally then, in support of one very distinct group who have been pilloried for their faithful adherence to cannabis use. Rastafari is a legitimate religion, the worship and ritual of which are protected by the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of Barbados; if it were not so, we would have told you. No longer should practitioners of this faith be made petty criminals. Yes, criminal sanctions should be placed upon those who would seek to expose still-developing young brains to this herb. Yes, there should be a comprehensive programme to address addiction, treatment, education and regulation of control, sale and distribution. It is baffling that no young bright legal mind has yet been put to the defence by constitutional motion of Rastafari’s rights to their sacred rites.
Perhaps, it is here, in a court of law – and before the bar of Parliament – that the gospel according to the double standard of Barbadian society will finally meet its comeuppance for, after all, in the court of public opinion, a commonsense approach to decriminalisation and regulation has already won, as the last CADRES opinion poll on cannabis has long discovered.