Let's talk marijuana. Then let's act before we miss the train
Having left the station, the marijuana reform train cannot turn around, cannot stop and cannot slow down. All we can do in Dominica is to guide it as it speeds around the corner along its controversial journey.
As part of the voyage, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit announced during his Independence Day address on 3rd November that his government was reigniting the discussion on the decriminalisation and commercialization of the weed. He was late, very late but that's better than complete silence.
According to Skerrit, that discussion on the legislation of marijuana was necessary for a forty-year old nation. He added:
"Dominica does not need anyone to dictate to it what its policy on this issue should or must be," Skerrit said. "I Roosevelt Skerrit, might very well vote NO, on this issue. But it is not for me to impose my personal likes and dislikes, nuances and preferences, on you the people of Dominica.
"We are today 40 years of age and that is the phase at which we discuss these issues with a measure of maturity, and arrive at a position in the best interest of the country.
"So the issue of whether to allow the use of medicinal and or recreational marijuana, is a matter that will also come under the microscope, in an open and transparent manner, in the months ahead. As a matter of fact, the first national consultation on the decriminalization of marijuana, and its use for medicinal purposes, will be held on November 16, 2018. Dr. Donald Peters has been appointed as national coordinator for this initiative.
"Perhaps the time has come for us to put some of these issues before you, at the time of voting. Perhaps we need a thorough public education program, followed by a referendum on such issues".
In the past few years many prominent Dominicans have called for a forward thinking decision on the use of marijuana. Who can forget Hubert Volney, a former judge of Trinidad and Tobago, shouting his promotion of the acceptance of marijuana when he screamed "Legalise it!" as he addressed a rally of the ruling Dominica Labour Party (DLP) at Portsmouth.
Again, at a press conference of the opposition United Workers Party (UWP) at the Prevo Cinemall, Joseph Isaac, the Roseau Central Member of Parliament, and now Minister of the Environment, pressed the issue of the urgent need to take advantage of the economic benefits of the commercialisation of marijuana.
According to Isaac, Dominica is being left behind as many countries around the world gallop ahead towards the decriminalisation of marijuana. That movement is especially true of many states of the United States of America.
Five years ago, in December 2013 Washington State celebrated the legalisation of marijuana cigarettes. Since then Washingtonians 21 years and older can legally light up in public or eat buns and cake or drink tea laced with ganja. In January 2013, Colorado became the first American state to fully legalise the drug. Other states quickly followed so that in 2018 recreational use of marijuana is legal in ten states and decriminalised in 13. Recently the weed was made legal at all levels in Canada.
In the Caribbean, there have been renewed calls for the legalisation and export of marijuana. In November 2016, St Lucia's government said it was planning a series of town hall meetings to discuss the decriminalisation of marijuana. In 2015, CARICOM formed a committee to examine whether marijuana should be legalised in the region. In 2018, the committee published a report of the CARICOM Regional Commission on Marijuana entitled: "Waiting to Exhale –Safeguarding our Future through Responsible Socio-Legal Policy on Marijuana".
But for many years in the past Jamaica has been at the forefront of the campaign for the sensible use of marijuana. For instance, even the conservative Gleaner Newspaper suggested that the government must seriously consider the commercial production, sale and export of marijuana. In an editorial dated December 7, 2012 entitled: "Allow free trade in marijuana", the Gleaner opined that Jamaica should be positioning itself to capitalize on these developments in the US and to take advantage of Jamaica's reputation as ganja country. "There is no doubt that the Jamaica brand is hot," the paper stated. "Ganja could find a niche, like Blue Mountain coffee."
The Gleaner had the audacity to suggest that the national export agency, JAMPRO, should encourage ganja product development and lobby the US to end its prohibition of the trade.
Additionally, Gleaner columnist Dennis Quill suggested, in an article that he called "See it deh now", that many Caribbean countries are reacting with changes of their own.
So far in the region Jamaica and Antigua have decriminalised the use of recreational marijuana as well as the cultivation of the plant. Guatemala had proposed the decriminalization of certain drugs and the Uruguay government passed legislation in 2013 that allows Uruguayan residents to sign up to grow plants at home for personal use. Given the poor state of the economies of regional states, you can almost see leaders like Ralph Gonzales of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, as well as Rastafarians, shiver with anticipation.
This reminds us that eccentric local politician, Pappy Baptiste, for many years drove around shouting in his yellow megaphone, as he drives around Roseau in his yellow car, that if Dominicans were to vote him into government his first act would be to allow the cultivation and export of ganja. We've been laughing at Pappy all along but, despite his eccentricity, he seems to have seen the future.
Undoubtedly, Dominica's economy has become extremely dependent on the drug trade, especially marijuana. It is common knowledge that millions of dollars in illegal foreign exchange continues to flow into the economy despite the tightening of money laundering laws and stricter banking practices. But the economic benefits of drugs are not as worrying as the societal impact of the trade. In many parts of our nation drug dealers are socially acceptable; there is no stigma associated with the practice anymore. Society, therefore, is losing not only the supply and demand aspects of the war on drugs but the psychological one as well.
We, therefore, argue that our current policy on drug control and consumption has failed miserably. We must change our focus and it is time to consider alternative ways of tackling the problem.
We therefore welcome the Government's decision to continue public discussion on the ramifications of the decriminalisation of marijuana. Additionally since Dominica is the Nature Island of the World we may be missing an opportunity to explore the commercialization of organic marijuana for the medical industry.