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Should the Caribbean ‘Free Up the Herb'? This Attorney Thinks So

"Ganja at Bob Marley's House", photo by Patrick Talbert, used under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.

“Ganja at Bob Marley's House”, photo by Patrick Talbert, used under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.

The Caribbean is in the midst of a debate as to whether or not marijuana should be legalised.

This past May, when a video emerged allegedly showing Trinidad and Tobago's then minister of sport rolling a joint, discussion was rife as to whether he should be fired from his post. At the time, many social media users seemed to be more inclined to have him fired over his performance than the possibility of his being in possession of ganja. As it turns out, the minister resigned yesterday following public pressure over a corruption scandal.

At the other end of the Caribbean archipelago, the Jamaican government is seeking to decriminalise personal possession of up to 2 ounces of the substance by September — a move that garnered support from the country's Drug Abuse Council.

At the blog Groundation Grenada, attorney and activist Richie Maitland makes a case for decriminalisation of the herb by citing other countries that have made the decision to legalise its use. Grenada is not inclined to be among them because the government maintains that drug-related illnesses are a burden to taxpayers. Maitland's post challenges this argument (illustrated in his graph below) by examining hospital statistics — and he finds that alcohol-related problems far outweigh those involving marijuana.

Graphic showing the difference between alcohol and marijuana-related hospital cases, created by Richie Maitland

Graphic showing the difference between alcohol and marijuana-related hospital cases in Grenada, created by Richie Maitland.

Much of the difference lies in public perception: alcohol is legal, marijuana is not. The post also dissects the argument that decriminalistion would be in breach of certain international treaties that the country adheres to:

You know what other international obligation Grenada has? An obligation to respect and affirm the equality of LGBTI people [...] Governments hide behind international obligations as pretexts when they want to avoid inconvenient action while disregarding other obligations with impunity. Emphasizing international obligations is therefore a weak argument against decriminalisation.

But to address the substance rather than the hypocrisy of the argument, this issue has actually been determined by Caribbean international law expert – Professor Stephen Vascianne [...] from Jamaica. Grenada and most of the rest of the Caribbean share the same drug prohibition international obligations as Jamaica. Vascianne concluded in a 2001 paper [...] that it was possible to decriminalise personal ganja use in Jamaica without being in breach of international obligations, once cultivation and distribution of ganja remained illegal.

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