Sharon Philogene
Sharon Philogene

In October 2020, the Government of Dominica passed legislation to decriminalize small quantities of marijuana (28 g) 1 ounce or less. This news was met with much relief by marijuana users as many lives in the past had been affected because of Marijuana's "illegal" status in our society. And while I empathize with those whose lives were affected, I am not donning a party hat and blowing a trumpet to celebrate what many had wished for years. I am not because I am Dominican, and I have been around long enough with my eyes and ears open to know that we cannot deal with the eventual fallout of this decision.

Life has gone on since this all-important decision, and it has not been at the forefront of most discussions. In fact, those who touted marijuana use for medical purposes might now be enjoying its medical benefits without looking over their shoulders, and those who saw the vast riches which could be gotten through its industrialization may be on the throes of much success and the bounty to our economy is on the horizon.

Meanwhile, the drug abuse problem already visible on our streets will like wood ants cause havoc in our society. I need no one to tell me otherwise because it appears that every time I look, I see a new face on the streets. Today, Saturday, the face which materialized before my eyes as I made a left turn around the building housing the market vendors was not new. The Roseau river is to my back and the sea to my right. It is after six am and the place is teeming with activity and yet, I did not miss him. He hand is to his mouth and he is pulling on a joint which I want to reach out, grab, and toss to the ground, but I know this would be a futile move. He sees me but does not smile as he usually does; instead, he says, "I haven't seen you in a long time". He has gained weight since I last saw him. His face is puffy, his eyes are blank and mentally, I note that we are losing him. I remember that after reading one of the pieces he had written in English class, I remarked to him that he should try to write for one of the papers. He was one of my grade A/B writers. "I am hungry," he said, and I cannot walk away. I know I should not enable his habit, so I do not give him money. We are walking towards the shop so I can get him something to eat, and we are back in class and I am reminding him of what I had expressed. "when you waste your time here, please do not ask me for money when I am passing on the road. Life is about choices and we must live with the consequences of our choices". Today, my heart has trumped my head, and I am about to go back on my word. In fact, where he is concerned, I have gone back on my word many times. At the shop, he is being reminded of how much he has disappointed his mother by a young man who has chosen to start his day with a glass of booze, and I stand there watching "the pot calling the kettle black".

When I handed him the food, he walks away, and I realize that I am glad that I saw him. He was still alive, and so there is still hope. Life is about choices, I thought, but we are not all made of the same mettle and our support system plays an integral role in our lives. I watched him walk away, and I am playing back our encounters at school. He wanted to be a musician, he had shared, and I reminded him then, that he should have a backup plan. Success does not always come overnight; in fact, it rarely does. Be prepared to struggle a bit, I opined; in life, only the fittest survive. He had his plans drawn up; he was sure he would make it as a musician. During his final year of school, I could see his world crumbling around him and nothing I could say or do helped. He seemed to have no fixed abode having fallen out with the authority in his life. It was clear that his lips were getting darker with every study of his face as the year inched slowly by. Then, on what was supposed to have been a day of celebration for having made it to the end of year five; there was a marijuana business related fight with his 'friend" and that was it! He walked away and the downward spiral began.

Today, I wish as I did then, that I could have referred him to a rehabilitation center. There are none on this island. He is but one of several brilliant young men who I have had to watch walk down a path of no return. Today, as I did then, I am beginning to see the lips of a few of my students getting darker and darker. They tout the legality of marijuana. They boast of the riches they hope to accrue. They laugh at how much we, teachers, struggle, and I know that soon I will not have enough money to buy breakfast for the many who will fall prey to legal marijuana use and the door it opens to more enticing drugs whose stranglehold it is difficult to escape. Marijuana might bring medicinal benefits to some while some will need medical intervention to save them from marijuana's grip. And so, while we plan to enjoy the bounty to be had from the benefits of marijuana, let us also plan to include a drug rehabilitation center with trained personnel in every health district.