Slavery was wrong, but it was upheld as right by our English colonial masters in the British West Indies and North America to justify its existence for 300 years. They used slavery to create lavish empires off the backs of black slave labour and when slavery became unprofitable, the Europeans ended it without compensation to our forefathers.
Marijuana was good yet the Americans instilled in us that it was a drug. We had known for decades, even before ganga became popular in Barbados, that it was being smoked by persons who lived in Jamaica without negative effects. Yet the American government was able to persuade every government in the Eastern Caribbean that it was an illegal drug.
Millions of Black people have been incarcerated since the 1970s for possession, smoking or supplying marijuana. This herb has created a constant supply for the cradle to prison pipeline which uses poor black men in America and makes millions of dollars for those who profit from the free labour of this type of slavery.
This reality has not escaped Barbados where bigshots traffic drugs and guns and there are some neighbourhoods engulfed in a cycle of poverty with the same cradle to prison pipeline. We have a system where the police persecutes, and the court prosecutes poor black men, all because of marijuana.
Now the coin has flipped as the Americans have changed their minds. Marijuana is no longer bad. Perhaps it was that the prisons have become too overcrowded and not enough persons are out on the streets to smoke to retain certain profit-levels, so someone decided that they needed to get more persons smoking weed. The best way to maintain their profit levels was to decriminalize marijuana or make it available for medicinal purposes.
So, the same marijuana that we were told was bad, is now the golden-haired child. Big Pharma has suddenly made an about turn and that which was bad for our health for decades is now being advocated as better than sliced bread. Their eyes have been opened to the profits to be reaped off the new “slaves” and create a trillion-dollar industry. The big pharmaceutical giants have smelled the profits. It is all about money as big pharmaceutical companies are only interested in controlling illnesses not finding cures.
We have found ourselves in an unprecedented situation where our bad herb is now acceptable. It has also presented us with our greatest opportunity to make money, but it comes with a challenge to government. The Government is advocating the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes only. After careful consideration, one can believe that this is not practical.
One wonders if we will experience ‘growing’ pains. On a 2X4 island where there is an existing ‘problem’, we would have to fortify Barbados to ensure that there are no leakages from the system. Can you imagine the situation if every local plantation started to grow marijuana and had to put up rails, barbwire and electrical fencing? Not only would this add to the production costs, but it would impact the aesthetics of the countryside.
How would we know that these local farmers will not sell their surplus on the underground market? Will the police be standing outside these establishments to prevent pilferage? Will we choose to exclude ordinary citizens from entering a legitimate business by growing herb in their backyards? Will there be a license? If so, this can be challenged in court since no other cash crops are being grown by way of license? What if every adult applied for a license? Would the price of a license be prohibitive to prevent some persons from obtaining a license to grow the cash crop?
Why has the Government chosen to restrict the use of marijuana to medicinal purposes only? This denies prospective entrepreneurs the opportunity to focus on manufacturing goods which can become a source of exports. If the Rastafarian Brethren presently use it for religious purposes and want to add medicinal purposes, should they have to meet a certain criterion? Government should provide the enabling environment for all sectors and industries to thrive and not choose one over the other.
We already have land available to grow the marijuana, all small farmers need are seeds and they are in abundance next door in St. Vincent and in grade A condition. There is no need for foreign expertise as there are persons on the island who have up to 30 years’ experience in growing marijuana even under the most restrictive conditions.
Despite the lucrativeness of marijuana, we must remember that it is still an illegal substance in Barbados at least for the poor people. The Government has not stated that it will decriminalize marijuana. It has mentioned a referendum for the people to decide. This gives the people the bargaining chip for the introduction of marijuana as a cash crop in Barbados. The Government cannot go back on its word and must hasten to bring this referendum to pass. When it is decriminalized, everyone who is presently incarcerated as a result of marijuana must be freed and rehabilitated into society. We can use some of the profits to do this. We can plan properly using the mistakes that Jamaica made as guidance in our transition.
Marijuana should never have been criminalized. In a Barbados where marijuana is decriminalized, there will be nothing for the drug lords to protect.
At present, marijuana is the slavery of this poor black generation. It has the poor of Barbados in chains. It is a divider in society, and we all know that the rich and the middle class will never go before a magistrate for a spliff.
We must remember that after Emancipation in 1834 and the Apprenticeship period all the slaves were freed. This ‘new’ emancipation must also be inclusive of all Barbadians. For how can we have emancipation which excludes the very people who need it most? All must all benefit from marijuana. Why would one wish for some to profit from marijuana while it remains a criminal offence for others?
We cannot invite Canadians or Americans to profit off marijuana and feel comfortable knowing that it is illegal for common use in Barbados. We must be guided by our conscience and we cannot retrogress in the building of Barbadian society. We cannot perpetuate the ills of a plantation slave society bound by a new set of Jim Crow Laws where the new planter class will live lavish lifestyles akin to those of the sugar barons of a few centuries ago and the black working class remain downtrodden and incarcerated for smoking a spliff.
We, the people, have the bargaining chip and a decision to make. In order to make that decision, we all must raise our voices for the referendum on decriminalizing marijuana which is inclusive of the benefits that we expect to derive from that cash crop being grown in Barbados. If the Canadians and the Americans do arrive, they must find all Barbadians already seated at the table.
Heather Cole is a United States based Barbadian investment banker.