Ganja, Ganja, Ganja, Ganja oh how I love thee; let me count the ways.
After attending a Ganja symposium at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Cave Hill Campus hosted by the Faculty of Social Sciences, I am left with these few thoughts, which I will share with you.
One of the things that struck me as I attended the two day proceedings was the lack of Ganja users in attendance outside of the Rastafari community. I would venture to say that persons attending, like a good majority of the panel, see the issue of Ganja decriminalisation as positive and fruitful to the greater society in numerous ways. Outside of the Ganja users, I felt other facets of our society should have participated in the discussion. Seeing that the use by the youth was a concern tabled several times, I was surprised that no youth from the blocks were invited, no 5th or 6th form students, not even many UWI students and of course no young business people (artists, entertainers, natural products producers, etc). These are some of the voices I would have expected to weigh in very heavily on the topic of legalisation or decriminalisation of the Ganja plant.
Also omitted from the conversation was the traditional healer whose role and voice in the community has always been a strong one for grass roots people. So while we were able to hear the words of the pharmaceutical industry, we were not able to hear our bush doctors.
If I had to place a stamp on the proceedings and most of what was being put forward, it would say ‘Hypocrisy’. What those in power would have us believe is that the issue and consideration of Ganja legalisation revolves around the health of our nation. Consideration of youth usage was also tabled by the National Council for Substance Abuse. But wait – does not alcohol have the most devastating effect on the society today, both mentally and physically? As was noted by one of the attendees of the symposium, alcohol continues to be the leading factor in violent crime in Barbados. Yet it is advertised freely, lauded by calypsonians and there is free access for anyone over the age of sixteen.
I think if mister man was really interested in the mental health of our nation, something should be done about the crap that comes from our radio stations each day and the x-rated and vile music played on our public transportation vehicles. If we want to move from mental to physical health and cost to the nation, we should look at sugar, the number one drug on the market. I am sure I don’t have to spell out the medical costs of Diabetes treatments here on the island. How about lung health issues not only from tobacco smoking, but also from car fumes? How many of us have had to sit behind a car or bus barely able to breathe due to the smoke coming from the vehicle in front of us? No law against that to my knowledge. Fast foods aiding to the nation’s poor health in a considerable way, but that seems not to be a care for anyone. Clearly the point of concern for our health as a reason for having Ganja illegal is not a valid one. One of the dangers of this false premise is, as one presenter pointed out, we live in a time of information and the youth are getting factual information on Ganja from the internet and can see for themselves the hypocrisy in your arguments. When the youth lose faith in their leaders, their governments and their society, what will happen?
This being the case, and it was admitted by members of the various panels when presenting their concerns and considerations for legalisation or decriminalisation, it seems that health issues were not a major concern when it comes to other things as they pertains to the Cannabis plant. The question then is if health is really not the major reason for the law against Ganja, what is?
One young woman advanced the idea based on her research, that the original law against Ganja was a racist law intended to control and disadvantage a particular set of people, namely the Mexicans and Africans. It struck me as interesting that after the idea of racism was brought to fore it was never really given serious consideration. But it is a serious issue and in fact, as history shows us, the main factor in the law against Ganja. The problem is that the issue of race is very contentious in Barbados as is being seen with the Miss Barbados white woman win. So just as with the Ganja issue, we would rather not deal with the matter of race or discrimination, in the same way as with the beauty pageant issue, we play the role of the mighty ostrich.
What exactly is Racism? “Racism is different from racial prejudice, hatred, or discrimination. Racism involves having the power to carry out systematic discriminatory practices through the major institutions of our society.” As pointed out by Mr. Jeremy Stephen, a lecturer in Economics, Ganja has the ability to transform the economic state of this island. He spoke on taxation of imports and exports of Ganja, the raw material and products, the hemp industry, medicinal industry and the savings to our criminal justice system. The real question here is who stands to gain from such large economic development based on Ganja with the right legislation? Could poor communities empower themselves through the legalisation or decriminalising of Ganja? Let us not forget that poverty is man induced and held in place by systems that are in turn supported by unjust law.
Mr. Jeremy Stephen
A very solid point was made for compensation of Ganja prisoners and the Rastafari community who have been victims of the law against Ganja. In a presentation entitled, “Framing Mischief” about how the law has been used to vilify the community, the reality of how the Rastafari community and young people, mostly young men, have been retarded in their communal and personal development was strongly put forward, as Sister Keturah Babb of the Rastafari community laid out her charge sheet against the framers and upholders of the law against Ganja.
Sister Keturah Babb
Another point that was made clear at the Ganja symposium was that polls were being taking for opinions on Ganja from an uninformed society. Mr. Peter Wickham, Director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES), was in agreement with this sentiment and said even though an uninformed position is taken by the people, it is this uninformed position that influences government in its decision making process. I will leave that one there for you to ponder.
UWI Cave Hill has stated that it is there to do the research only. Not to assist with the lobbying for legalisation or decriminalisation, but merely to bring forth the scientific evidence gathered on the plant based on their research for use by anyone. So it is therefore left to civil society to force the issue.
What is the role of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in the fight for legalisation or decriminalisation of Ganja? Seeing that African spiritual systems use many different types plants to connect to their ancestors and deities, all Pan African organisations should be involved with the legalisation or decriminalisation of Ganja as a human rights issue. Community youth leaders should weigh in on the conversation as community development and empowerment could greatly be affected by easing up off Ganja use. A national petition for the legalisation or decriminalisation should be tabled and the issuing of licences for regulated use be authorised for the Rastafari and pan African organisations firstly for sacramental, traditional healing, recreational and economic use through manufacturing. The private business sector should lobby as well, as there is great opportunity for many new products to be introduced to the market.
I am going to ask that the African Heritage Foundation liaise with the Rastafari community and organise a national all day Ganja Rally. This rally should see the participation of the police, the churches, NGOs, the government, the private sector, community youth leaders and schools. It should facilitate the advancement of the petition to the Attorney General’s office, the Ministry of Health, the Prime Minister’s office and whatever other relevant authority is required for a call from the people of Barbados to free up the use of Ganja.