Contrary to the Caribbean’s reputation for being a cornucopia of cannabis consumption, policymakers throughout the region have largely maintained a stiff upper lip on the drug’s legal status. Over the past few years, however, marijuana liberalization has been in the air with Central and Northwestern American states like Colorado and Washington leading the charge against what advocacy groups describe as the Prohibition Industrial Complex—a constellation of special interest groups representing federal narcotics task forces, the correctional institutions industry, and pharmaceutical companies who profit directly and indirectly from the plant’s criminal status. With 22 out of 50 U.S. states having decriminalized marijuana, the USA is rapidly turning into the land of the red, white, blue . . . and green.
This decriminalization trend has since wafted downwind to Jamaica, where the local government is experimenting in earnest with creating a regulated industry for the plant, and onwards to the Eastern Caribbean where new research suggests that the majority of Saint Lucians also favour marijuana decriminalization. The report ‘Public Opinion on Marijuana Decriminalisation in St. Lucia’, soon to be published by Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES), states that “cumulatively 51% of respondents supported either full legalization or partial decriminalization of marijuana in Saint Lucia”.
According to CADRES’s data, based on a countrywide, in-person survey of 1,000 Saint Lucians, opinions on decriminalization are relatively unison across gender with males demonstrating a slightly larger appetite for a relaxation in laws than their female counterparts. On the other hand, opinions on decriminalization differed between age groups with 18 to 30-year-olds feeling the strongest about changing the law.
CADRES conducted the same survey in St. Vincent, Antigua, Dominica, and Barbados. Results in those islands were roughly uniform with Saint Lucia, with each country reporting that a majority of respondents favoured some form of decriminalization.
This survey on the public’s opinion of marijuana decriminalization can prove to be a valuable decision-making tool for the Allen Chastanet administration as they consider their options. Minister of Home Affairs, Justice, and National Security Hermangild Francis has already indicated the government’s openness to decriminalization. The CADRES report comes on the heels of several discussions that took place earlier this year between the government and members of the grassroots marijuana movement here on island.
As with all things, the devil is in the detail. While the CADRES report is a promising start to what hopefully becomes a broader public discussion, there are still many more considerations for the government and people of Saint Lucia. For example, while data on marijuana-related incarceration rates in Saint Lucia is scarce, loosening the law on ganja would surely alleviate the burden on both the justice system and taxpayers. While the government is keeping the cards close to
its chest – for now, at least – it’s difficult to know if the drug’s burden on law enforcement is the government’s only concern. The economics of a regulated marijuana industry are also proving to be big business, earning Colorado over half a billion dollars in taxes and fees since legalization in 2014.
Another concern for the administration is how a decision to decriminalize the drug will affect Saint Lucia’s standing in global law enforcement circles, keeping in mind that the country is signatory to a number of bilateral and multilateral anti-narcotics treaties with countries and institutions across the globe. A non-insignificant proportion of our legal bodies like the police are funded by grants tied to anti-trafficking treaties like the 1971 UN Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and the 1988 UN Drug Convention. Would decriminalization of marijuana affect these funding mechanisms? That remains to be seen.
While much is still uncertain, engaging the public in the conversation is a step in the right direction. While it is always tempting to base our decisions on the experiences of others, we must maintain that our circumstances are unique. Marijuana is still illegal at the federal level in the United States, and just because Uncle Sam hasn’t come knocking on Colorado’s doors, or Jamaica’s, doesn’t necessarily mean he won’t come knocking on ours.