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FIRING LINE: Legalisation of marijuana


Shantal Munro-Knight

FIRING LINE: Legalisation of marijuana

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I am perhaps going to get in some very hot water for this article but I think it is important that we have an honest debate.
The recent police seizure of a number of marijuana plants and the expected later destruction of those plants made me reflect on the global debate around the legalisation of marijuana. In many respects, I think that we are perhaps ignoring the elephant in the room when it comes to the issue of the marijuana. 
Firstly, I should state that is not an article calling for the legalisation of marijuana (I am sure this will be ignored but felt I should state it in anyhow). This is an article which seeks to suggest that there is a debate and we ought to think strategically about how we position ourselves in that debate.
Importantly, I also want to suggest that there are some lessons to be learnt about self-serving international policy. Those of us who understand intellectual property rights (IPR) and how the resources of developing countries can become owned by developed countries overnight would perhaps be more appreciate of my point.    
It would be interesting if someone could tell us how much money the West has plugged into the Caribbean over the last ten years to enable law enforcements officers to fight marijuana use and distribution. I suspect billions – most of this premised on the fact the marijuana was seen as a highly addictive drug and rightly so. 
There is absolutely no doubt that marijuana is a dangerous drug when abused. I am fairly sure that many of us are intimately aware of some of the worst consequences of addictive marijuana use. Even if it was only a passing teenage phase many families across Barbados have cried and worried over both sons and daughters involved in marijuana use.
The potential of escalation from marijuana to cocaine use, deviant behaviour and involvement in crime are some of the very real consequences of addiction. I have seen it personally. 
This, however, is not only a problem in the Caribbean and while the marijuana in the Caribbean might be of a higher grade, perhaps the additive qualities of the plant are the same in any locale.
Yet, it would seem that at the very same time the West was encouraging us to heighten the criminalisation of the use of the drug, somewhere in labs dotted across their countries they were also testing, experimenting and preparing for the decriminalisation of the drug in their own countries.
I would go further to suggest that even as they recognised that there would be a change of policy in their own home countries they continued to provide further support for interdiction efforts in our countries. For the record I have no proof, just a hunch at this point. 
I do, however, find it quite interesting the growing number of countries in recent times; including American states which are currently moving to legalise marijuana for mainly medicinal and increasingly recreational purposes.
Many countries have decriminalised the possession of small quantities of cannabis. Furthermore, possession is legal or effectively legal in the Netherlands, Uruguay and in the US states of Colorado (Colorado Amendment 64) and Washington (Washington Initiative 502).
On December 10, 2013, Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalise the sale, cultivation, and distribution of cannabis. The medicinal use of cannabis is legal in a number of countries, including Canada, the Czech Republic and Israel.
While at the federal level in the United States the sale and possession of cannabis is still illegal, at the state level there are varying levels of legalisation occurring. While it starts initially as medicinal use some states are also moving to regulated recreational use.
They did not just wake up one morning and discover the miraculous powers of marijuana. They had to have been studying and testing the plant for over a number of years. This year alone the Kentucky senate has passed a bill legalising marijuana oil to treat childhood epilepsy. This does not happen in a day.
It should have been good manners perhaps if they would have come back and told us that many of the claims Rastafarians had been making for years was actually true. But that might have interfered with the million-dollar industry that a regulated marijuana industry is providing for Western economies.
One website said the legalisation of pot in Colorado is forecast to net the State roughly $1 billion in sales for the rest of the fiscal year, generating roughly $100 million in revenue.
When Rastafarians here for years were talking about the medicinal properties of the plant we ignored them. It is perhaps that same disdain which has seen us lose local knowledge about the myriad of plants and shrubs with medicinal properties across the island. 
I have no definitive answers and the intention was not to advocate one way or another but just to say there is a debate to be had.
Shantal Munro-Knight is a development specialist and executive coordinator at the Caribbean Policy Development Centre.

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