Looking beyond decriminalisation

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There may be something to the statements made by Rastafarian Isaiah Nicholas when he asserted that the fate of the next general election lies with the decriminalisation of the controversial marijuana plant. The mere fact that the politicians are falling over themselves to address the issue, or trying to achieve this goal before the next general election, is a good indicator that their pollsters have told them that the marijuana issue is important and could be a determining factor.
Both the Antigua & Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) and the United Progressive Party (ABLP) have pledged support for the decriminalisation of a certain amount of cannabis, with Prime Minister Gaston Browne committing to the action being taken by year-end. That in itself is interesting since we were under the impression that the current consultations were meant to educate and influence the Cabinet and others in the decision making process – one way or another. Based on the PM’s commitment, we can only presume that the decision has been taken and the consultation can only influence the details of the changes.
Decriminalisation is only one aspect of a much larger conversation surrounding marijuana. From a social perspective, it is a very important evolution because there have been many lives that have made a detour because of “smoking a likkle herb”. The Rastafarian community has long complained of discrimination  because of the use of marijuana as part of their religion and culture. As well, there are many young people who have had their lives turned upside down, and to a large part ruined, because they were caught with a spliff or two at a young age.
Notable businesswoman Makeda Mikael probably summed up the general frustration of a large segment of society when she presented her observations on the societal differences and the different applications of the law based on status. She said that she has witnessed a systemic targeting of people of the Rastafarian faith and young men who are low-income earners, while others in higher social brackets are overlooked. It was her assessment that “the police authorities and government of the region view weed very much like they do in the United States – to incarcerate the poor and the unfortunate and that is unacceptable in a black country like hours.”
Ms Mikael’s comments are in keeping with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) which stated in their report, The War on Marijuana in Black and White, stated; “The aggressive enforcement of marijuana possession laws needlessly ensnares hundreds of thousands of people into the criminal justice system and wastes billions of taxpayers’ dollars. What’s more, it is carried out with staggering racial bias.” Some of the staggering numbers in that report include the fact that blacks in America are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, even though marijuana use is basically equal among blacks and whites. As well, “between 2001 and 2010, there were over 8 million pot arrests in the US. That’s one bust every 37 seconds and hundreds of thousands ensnared in the criminal justice system.”
The report goes on to state that the cost of that enforcement is “about $3.6 billion a year, yet the War on Marijuana has failed to diminish the use or availability of marijuana.” The overall futility of the US’ War on Marijuana is clearly evident in the report and is also obvious in the fact that many states are changing their laws to be more weed friendly.
At home, politicians are rushing to get on the weed wagon with the hopes that it will usher them into office but it is clear that people are far more knowledgeable of the issues than they are being given credit for.  People have long sniffed out the politics surrounding the politician’s recent love of this topic and recognized that all the talk is more smoke than substance.
If a politician were to take the time to strike up a meaningful conversation with someone on the issue of marijuana, they may be surprised at the level of knowledge the average citizen has. They would quickly see that the public discussion on this topic has evolved way beyond decriminalisation and has moved on to how we can leverage the “push for pot” for our economic benefit. They know, for example that Canada is on the path towards legalising recreational marijuana use and that more than half of America’s states have passed laws to legalize marijuana in some form.
They have also seen the reports on the economic benefits of marijuana. One example is Colorado which, according to an analysis from the Marijuana Policy Group, created 18,005 full-time jobs and added about $2.4 billion to the state’s economy in 2016. Apparently, Colorado’s pot industry has turned into a runway hit and has proven to be a stronger economic driver than 90 per cent of the active industries in that state. As well, thinkprogress.org reports, “Every dollar spent in the industry generates between $2.13 and $2.40 in economic activity. Only federal government spending has a higher multiplier.”
At this point in our country’s evolution, we should be examining the marijuana issue from all angles, not just looking at it from a decriminalisation perspective. We should look to see if we can adopt a well-accepted framework of legislation to circumvent any hypocritical criticisms (from you know who) and leverage pot for our economic benefit. With Uncle Sam already on the ‘weed wagon’ we are sure that the US would prefer that we
sell a bit of weed rather than our citizenship and passports.
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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