A new cannabis conversation is happening

Recently I watched two documentaries on marijuana, ‘Breaking the Taboo’ on Virgin’s in-flight entertainment system, and ‘Drugs, Inc – Jamaican Gangs, Guns and Ganja’ on National Geographic channel. I also missed one, CNN’s ‘Weed – Dr. Sanjay Gupta Reports’, which I’ll definitely find on youtube asap, because I believe that the evolving conversation around cannabis in 2013 is almost perfectly represented by these three pieces of documentary journalism. Suddenly there are voices from all over the spectrum finding sense in the research and nonsense in the criminalisation that has failed to stem the flow of demand and supply for decades.

‘Breaking the Taboo’ uncovers the UN sanctioned war on drugs, charting its origins and devastating impact on countries like the USA, Colombia and Russia. Featuring prominent statesmen including US Presidents Clinton and Carter, and Colombia’s Cesar Gaviria, the film tracks and exposes the biggest failure of global policy in the last 50 years. On the documentary’s website, the vision document signed by a plethora of upright global leaders, celebrities and citizens concludes: “At the root of current policies lies the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. It is time to re-examine this treaty, which imposes a “one-size-fits-all” solution, in order to allow individual countries the freedom to explore drug policies

that better suit their domestic needs. As the production, demand and use of drugs cannot be eradicated, new ways must be found to minimise harms, and new policies, based on scientific evidence that must be explored.”

The ‘Drugs, Inc’ episode is a visceral account of life in Kingston, Jamaica, among the gangs and the dons, the hierarchy of the network which takes marijuana from farm to city to further afield via dealers at yard-street-community-garrison-cartel levels. Corruption and facilitation is rife, swathes of the community are involved or affected, either economically or in terms of personal safety, despite the street don’s claim that they look after their own with the proceeds. Coke and crack are burgeoning social drugs, just to add to the nightmare. The war on drugs has failed in Jamaica too.

So what of the ‘Legalise Marijuana’ debate, now it’s up front and central on primetime news and top pick on every school’s Debate Club roster? How will Sanjay Gupta’s much-hyped personal and professional eureka moment influence the conversation, as more ‘normal’ supporters join the ranks of the converted? The doc penned an article in 2009 entitled ‘Why I would vote No on Pot’, but on August 9 he published his apology on the CNN website.

“I am here to apologize…because I didn’t look hard enough, until now. I didn’t look far enough. I didn’t review papers from smaller labs in other countries doing some remarkable research, and I was too dismissive of the loud chorus of legitimate patients whose symptoms improved on cannabis.”

Perhaps the most pro-cannabis argument from the doc: “Most frightening to me is that someone dies in the United States every nineteen minutes from a prescription drug overdose, mostly accidental. Every nineteen minutes. It is a horrifying statistic. As much as I searched, I could not find a documented case of death from marijuana overdose.”

Back here in Saint Lucia, one group of like-minded people is shaking their heads at the similarity between Gupta’s former dismissiveness and that of successive governments in colours other than green for the past 15 years. President of the Saint Lucia Cannabis Movement, Andre ‘Pancho’ de Caires, is vocal about the short shrift shown to the cause since back in the 1990s, when he and his partners developed the Industrial Hemp Initiative as a practical and lucrative direction for diversification of the agricultural sector, even as the economically demolishing decline of the banana industry loomed.

In 2010 de Caires produced a well-researched, insightful and prophetic argument for the decriminalisation of marijuana in Saint Lucia called The Ganja Document. At the same time as California’s Governator was relaxing the laws on possession, and near bankrupt states were calculating the potential tax revenue from cannabis for medicinal purposes, Pancho painted a realistic picture of ganja culture in Saint Lucia, and a tangible vision for harnessing the benefits of a more liberal approach to the ‘victimless non-violent crime’ of smoking weed.

Three years down the line, Colorado and Washington have voted in medical and recreational marijuana, and 18 other states have decriminalised medical marijuana. The health benefits of cannabinoids have been well-documented in the treatment of pain, sleeplessness, eating disorders, fits and seizures, post traumatic stress disorder and other problems, and with the laws opening up in the USA, more and more research can be done on harnessing these benefits.

But don’t be fooled, as Dr Gupta originally was, that decriminalising marijuana in Saint Lucia is about a few tourists getting stoned with the fellas at Gros Islet. The Cannabis Movement has its eyes firmly fixed on the resuscitation of the agricultural sector, sustainable development and filter-up economic benefits, like developing cottage industries to create and export high end spa and beauty products using indigenous inputs like cocoa, coconut oil, aloe vera and other locally grown ingredients. The Industrial Hemp Initiative now seems like a pretty attractive investment, were the laws around cannabis to be revised to allow the research and development project to proceed – certainly a solid option for diversification, even all these years later.

So what does the Cannabis Movement have to say as many of Pancho’s 2010 pot-prophecies come home to roost in 2013? Find out in Saturday’s St Lucia Star!

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