There is nothing quite so irresistible as an idea whose time has come. France’s Grand Old Man of Letters, Victor Hugo, put it with characteristic élan: “One resists the invasion of armies; one does not resist the invasion of ideas.”
And so, the idea that cannabis, available for medical use – which is already a fact of law in Barbados – will become a fact of custom, usage and practice, is the best current example of what happens when an irresistible force – a preponderance of scientific fact -means the immovable object of prejudice and supposition.
This is not another ode to the glorification of herb, a heady nod to the popular intoxicating shibboleth that all fine things flow from the plant known as cannabis sativa, the cultivation, storage, distribution, sale and possession of which remain contrary to the law of the land.
But we can no longer blind ourselves to the demonstrably beneficial effects of the potential of the plant and its main chemical derivatives – Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and the non-intoxicating Cannabidiol (CBD) – two of some 113 cannabinoids found in the plant.
We are astonished that among those immovable objects were apparently members of the medical community here. That only one doctor on this island could be found ready, willing and able to prescribe marijuana to patients is as astonishing as it is disappointing. That so many sufferers – afflicted by cancer, asthma, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and more – and countless patients desperate for chronic pain relief, palliative and end-of-life care can be helped significantly by these cannabinoids is no longer the stuff of lore and legend. That they have so long been ignored is a travesty.
In the pages of this newspaper you will find the voices of others who call for a different approach as we reach for a new and better high out of cannabis.
The former social transformation minister and lifelong representative of the people of St Michael South East, Hamilton Lashley, has witnessed the persecution that passes for prosecution of Rastafarians, and other ritual users of the prohibited plant. He, more than most, has seen futures crushed under the weight of societal expectations, criminal records and incarceration.
Medical marijuana has technically been a reality for years. But it took the foreshortened life of lawyer Kathy-Anne Trotman, wife of fellow barrister Douglas Trotman, and her painful death from complications due to breast cancer, to bring into sharp relief the hypocrisy inherent in a provision for which there was no proper administrative process.
That she laboured for years to obtain the permission to use imported cannabis for her treatment, receiving a ministerial approval for an import licence only upon her death, is a sad reflection on a nation being dragged kicking and screaming out of Victorian moral piety. It is part of the national culture for us to wait on other nations and regions to reap the rewards of scientific knowledge before deciding, somewhat drudgingly, to keep pace. And yet, we are swift to copy the latest meaningless fads and spread the latest snippet of idle gossip in the global village.
A nation in the midst of a life-or-death struggle out of economic doldrums can ill-afford the luxury of intellectual indolence and analysis paralysis. A nation with a healthy mirror-image of itself and a vision for the world it wants to fashion for its children can no longer hide its head in the proverbial sand.
Vast vistas of knowledge appear on the horizon for cannabis. Need we remind academics that it is bad enough that centuries of know-how on herbs legally and eternally available in our region remain untapped, except for the odd university pharmacological tome. Our universities should be allowed to swing open their doors to deep and wide pharmaceutical research into Caribbean cannabis.
We share Hamilton Lashley’s concern that, as has happened so many times before, marginalized groups in the society who have grown and grown up on the fringes of the law will be cut out of any pending cannabis bonanza.
But we are keen to ensure that the opening of the door to medical marijuana will not be taken as the opening of the floodgates to a romanticized, recreational, open season in which our children will be left at the mercy of charlatans who proclaim the mysteries of their faith in the weed, imperiling the development of their still-growing brains and vital organs.
Like all pharmaceuticals, the cure can kill. THC or CBD, the substances from marijuana are still drugs, and while the science suggests that they do not possess the toxicity inherent in many chemical or synthetic pharmaceuticals, they require the careful administering by trained hands, whether folk or official.
We are satisfied that our nation’s teaching hospital, the Queen Elizabeth, and the Faculty of Medicine of the University of the West Indies are up to the challenge of preparing current and future minds to dispense medical marijuana.
We applaud the authorities, led by the Prime Minister, to finally bring light into the pagan darkness of ignorance of marijuana’s medicinal value. It is up to a nation, its physicians and its patients to let science, not myth either pro or con, fill the void of knowledge about the purpose, perils and promise of cannabis sativa.