Before we get to the article this headline immediately made us think of the John Holt reggae classic…..
The article, quite sensibly, asks the question…..
IN society there are usually a number of trigger words that are guaranteed to evoke a reaction from almost every citizen.
In ours, “weed” is somewhere in the top five of our trigger words. Recently, there has been a lot of talk around the subject following a publication that broadcasted a trade relationship between Jamaica and Canada for the drug. It is not so much that there is trade going on, the public outrage comes from the fact that Jamaica is importing marijuana from Canada. As you can imagine, people were triggered, and they have all right to be.
“Give the devil him due.” Some of us were fortunate enough to have an elder utter those words growing up. This phrase simply means, when bad agencies do good things, they are worthy of praise/props just the same. What does this have to do with weed? Well, I have always been critical of our Government and its handling of the subject. Jamaica had finally decriminalised cannabis in 2015 for medical, scientific, and therapeutic purposes. This is a significant improvement upon a system that prosecutes everyone caught in possession.
That said, Jamaica has no business importing any quantity of marijuana from any nation. Some things are just irrefutably unjust — and Jamaica importing marijuana is one of them. How is it unjust? Well, we can’t pretend we have not been torching acres of our own produce for decades, as opposed to recognising the value in it and making an effort to regulate its production. Admittedly, the law is the law and the ganja farmers who wore the label at a time when it was outlawed knew of the repercussions. However, we have not even properly explored our options in terms of manufacturing and creating branded products for export.
When Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce Senator Aubyn Hill was confronted about what was then an allegation he said, “We were obliged to consider it and we considered it. It met the requirements, and because Canada is an outstanding trading partner of Jamaica it was allowed to come through in the normal way. So, we followed the law.” However, the contention has never been whether or not it was an illegal trade — I would certainly hope it was legal — but the people of Jamaica are more concerned with the why.
Why is Jamaica importing weed? Is there a shortage? Did our ganja farmers suddenly lose the expertise to farm the product? We have destroyed their livelihoods for decades by setting their efforts ablaze. So why is it not our course of action to consult with these farmers and see how we can offer them a contract to produce the quantity needed? If the conspiracies are just conspiracies, why does it seem like we are so afraid to empower our own people?
Now, let us not beat around the bush here; marijuana is strongly associated with Jamaican culture and that is one of the main reasons for the uproar. The demand for Jamaica-branded produce is high by default, so the expectation would be for Jamaica to lead the charge.
Our minister of industry is well aware of this too and has attempted to open the possibility of exporting cannabis and cannabis products to Canada. According to Senator Hill, this ambition has been met with much resistance and even trade barriers. So, when we tried to export there were resistances but when Canada made the offer “we were obligated to consider it” then agreed?
Even if we are to be presented with all the economic advantages, the general consensus will be “it nuh look right”. Even if it would work out cheaper for the Government, what does that mean for the small man? What does that mean for the systematically downtrodden and impoverished youth to whom the attraction to crime grows with their ambition to provide? This could be yet another avenue for the Government to create job opportunities for many. Instead, we have once again robbed them of that potential by removing the demand through unnecessary imports.
Senator Hill affirms that this was a one-off request that was accepted largely due to the nature of the good trade relationship Jamaica has with Canada. I am sure many of us can understand a situation where you help your bredren out. However, Senator Hill was asked if we are to expect a continuation of this cannabis import to which he responded, “One of the things that I tend not to do with the future is to predict it.” Will the minister of industry prioritise the interests of the general public? Will the minister of industry recognise how many lives can be transformed through gainful employment in the cannabis industry? I certainly hope so, but we also know that he would have to first be “obliged to consider it”.
Hugh Graham is Member of Parliament for St Catherine North Western and CEO of Paramount Trading Company Ltd.