The discussion surrounding legalising marijuana use recently came to the forefront at the Cartegena, Colombia Summit Of The Americas where the topic threatened to overtake trade as the focus of attention.
During the talks, the lines seemed clearly drawn between the Central and South American countries, which are producers of pot, and the US and Canada which are the consumers.
President Obama of the US and Prime Minister Harper of Canada spoke against legalising cannabis while the other Central and South American leaders have come around to favouring legalising the herb.
Then, just last week, April 20 (4/20) was observed all over the world as a day to publicly indulge in weed smoking. Groups numbering in the thousands gathered in major cities and lit up their spliffs, while the police wisely stood by and restricted their efforts to keeping order.
Until recently most adults were unaware that 4/20 was code allegedly devised by some California school children to indicate the time of day to gather for lighting up. Supposedly, use of this code kept their teachers in the dark about their activities. The movement has since grown into a defiant demonstration in support of legalising marijuana.
What is of importance to us in Antigua & Barbuda is how the authorities in the United States, Canada and Europe react to the initiatives to legalise the drug. We are not significant producers of the weed but can become deeply enmeshed in its distribution because of our established connections with North America and Europe, the lucrative markets for cannabis.
Recently, Minister of National Security Dr Errol Cort stated that the latest intelligence reports indicate that the pressure applied to drug traffickers in Latin American countries has caused them to move more of their operations to eastern Caribbean islands like Antigua & Barbuda and St Kitts.
It is the nature of the drug trade to react like a balloon — when squeezed in one place it bulges in another. So the drug movements shift in reaction to the pressure applied.
There is no doubt that we are affected by the policies of North America and Europe. We are, in truth, pawns of the larger countries as they do finance a major portion of our drug interdiction efforts. So if these countries were to liberalise their drug use laws, if only for marijuana use, it would make a huge difference to our lives. This is not something we can do alone.
The chances of the countries of North America and Europe legalising ganja are becoming greater with each passing year. Cocaine has its followers but cannabis appears to be the recreational drug of choice. In these countries, users frequently argue the benign nature of the effects of marijuana compared to alcohol and cigarettes as well as its medicinal properties. What seems to be driving talk of reform, however, is the huge social and financial cost of policing the lucrative trade in both the producing and consuming countries.
According to Mexican government figures, over 12,000 people were killed in the first nine months of 2011 in violence blamed on organised crime. It is not possible to say how many of these casualities can be attributed to the ganja trade, but if only a small percentage of these numbers can be saved by removing the profits associated with having ruthless criminals in charge, then it would clearly be desirable.
It is now more widely accepted that legalising marijuana would remove the profit incentive for untouchable dons and their gangs to supply the market. Rand Corporation, a California think tank, has estimated that the price of marijuana would decline by some 80 per cent if it was legalised.
In the 1930s, prohibition against the use of alcohol caused the rise of some of America’s most infamous gangsters, including Al Capone. Repeal of prohibition quickly led to putting the criminals out of business.
The Economist magazine pointed out that for years now governments have been nibbling away at liberalising marijuana laws including Argentina, Belgium and Portugal. The governments of the Netherlands and some parts of Australia have also decriminalised the use of cannabis.
Some US states and Canadian provinces issue medical marijuana licences to grow the weed and California’s proposition 19 to legalise pot was narrowly defeated in 2010. But no government has gone all the way in legalising the drug.
To us the time to treat ganja in a similar manner to alcohol and cigarettes is overdue. Antigua & Barbuda would benefit considerably if the United States, in particular, took the bold step of removing the legal prohibitions to marijuana use. It would go some way to easing the pressure on our law enforcement.
We can only hope our government is paying careful attention to the trends in the use of the herb and won’t be caught flat-footed when the inevitable changes come about.