Seven reasons why the Caribbean may soon turn into a cannabis hotspot
Carribean There are many signs that some Caribbean countries may well develop into an Eldorado for cannabis and its consumers in the coming years. Read about the seven most important reasons here.
With the exception of Cuba, cannabis is widespread in the Caribbean. Historically, the many workers from India that came to the Caribbean during the era of the British Empire brought their ‘ganja’ along with them, so that they could relax after a hard day’s work on the plantation. Also, the Rastafarian movement, for which cannabis is a holy sacrament, has been growing steadily ever since the 1930s. Already two Caribbean states, Puerto Rico and Jamaica, have a medicinal cannabis programme in place. However, this only seems to be the upbeat to something much bigger. Ever since the first US states re-legalised cannabis, the fear of ‘Big Brother’, which promoted its illicit drugs interests in the Caribbean quite fiercely at times, seems to have all but vanished. There are many signs that some Caribbean countries may well develop into an Eldorado for this illicit plant and its consumers in the coming years. The seven most important signs are:
1. In Jamaica, the first legal cannabis plants will start to bloom shortly
Celebrating Bob Marley’s 70th birthday, cannabis was legalised for medicinal, religious and scientific purposes in 2015. Simultaneously, possession of up to 200 grams by adults and growing up to 5 plants for private consumption was decriminalised.
Moreover, the parity-based Cabinet Sub-Committee on Ganja was established in 2015 with the aim of drawing up the rules for growing medicinal cannabis. The regulatory framework is now in place and at the end of January, the country’s Cannabis Licensing Authority (CLA) was told by the committee to commence their activities. Cannabis producers are already rearing to go and can’t wait for the first growing licenses to be awarded. Incidentally, the number ganja-related arrests has fallen by 14,000 since 2015.
2. The president of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines would rather export cannabis than grow bananas
At the latest CARICOM (Caribbean Union) summit in Saint Lucia at the end of January 2016, the president of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves, proposed cannabis as an alternative to the banana monoculture. According to a report on telesur.tv, the president not only expects the domestic economy to benefit, but the environment as well: The upshot of the banana sector has been deforestation, erosion of the hills and valleys. It has been going on for nearly 50 years with bananas. So that when the rains come and you have flooding, the land gets washed away into the river. Trees themselves get dug out and they block up the rivers, mash up the bridges, destroy homes. And they kill people.”
At the Saint Lucia summit, the president found a willing ear in Marcus Day, the representative of the Caribbean Drug & Alcohol Research Institute, who apparently thinks his country is moving along too slowly: “I think that it’s about time that we move into the 21st century and stop this prohibition that has caused much pain on a lot of people.”
However, no-one went further than Valentine Clement James, representative of host country Saint Lucia: “I feel, trust me, there will be more to export than the bananas, because you have more youth in the ghettos who will be happy to plant it, to sell it. The banana will not really sell fast like the marijuana.”
According to US figures, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines are already among the largest illegal cannabis exporters of the region.
3. CARICOM has established a Cannabis Committee in 2015
Exactly one day after the new Jamaican cannabis legislation came into force, the Caribbean Union established a Cannabis Commission, in which all 15 member states are represented. When the commission was inaugurated in May 2015, the prime-minister of the Bahamas and then chair of the commission announced that the commission would “soon begin its work to look into the economic, health and legal issues surrounding the use of marijuana and to consult with stakeholders to get a view on the issue.” As yet, the commission hasn’t published any results.
4. The Caribbean tourist industry would like to have a piece of the pie
Jamaica is aiming to lure cannabis patients as tourists. In fact, the idea is officially support by Wykeham McNeill, the Jamaican government minister for tourism, who has called the reform ‘historic and revolutionary’. And ever since ‘cannabis tourism’ was one of the themes of a conference of the Caribic Tourism Organisation (CTO) in 2014, it’s not only Trinidad and Tobago that is contemplating following Jamaica’s example.
5. The former prime-minister of Trinidad and Tobago was caught with a 'cannabis-like substance' in 2013
Less than three years ago, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who was Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago from 2010 through 2015 was caught with five grams of a ‘cannabis-like substance’ in her possession. The substance was never analysed and therefore, no-one can say whether Ms Persad-Bissessar is a pothead. In fact, both islands are contemplating following Jamaica’s example.
6. Medicinal cannabis has already been legalised in Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico’s Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla already toyed with the idea to legalise medicinal cannabis for a while, without, however, decriminalising possession and consumption. Nevertheless, many observers were surprised that Padilla promulgated the law by decree as early as May 2015. By now, the regulatory framework has been drawn up and the first licenses are expected to be granted soon.
7. The Caribbean Health Authorities remain matter-of-fact
With respect to cannabis issues, the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) is only marginally more liberal than the WHO or the EU Health Authorities. Although they’re not enthusiastic and are emphasising the need for further research, they at least accept the basic necessity. The head of the organisation, Dr. James Hospedales, wrote about the issue: “Proceed with an abundance of caution.” He emphasizes the immense importance of youth protection.
The winds of change that are blowing on a few Caribbean islands should not hide the fact that countries such as Guyana or the Dominican Republic still penalise possession and consumption of cannabis severely, and think little of the novel ideas that some of their neighbouring islands and countries are entertaining. That, however, may change very quickly if the Cannabis Commission of the Caribbean Union concludes that Puerto Rico and Jamaica are showing the way forward.