The Great Weed Debate

(by Mark Jacobs)

On December 10, 2013 Uruguay became the first country to legalise the use of cannabis sativa popularly known as “marijuana”. Put another way, President and former guerilla fighter Dr Jose Mujica is the defacto weedman of Uruguay.

Dr Mujica and his fellow government “pushers” have figured out that they will have to cultivate at least 25 acres of the highest grade of marijuana to meet Uruguay’s 18 to 22 tons smoke habit.

Globally discussion about legalisation is all the rage. All eyes are on Uruguay and the states, Colorado and Washington in the U.S. but it’s not all about Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content and getting high. Billions dollars in tax and other revenue are at play. The Colorado Department of Revenue has set the sales tax on medical marijuana at 2.9% and retail marijuana at 10%.

In the month of January 2014, taxes collected on medical marijuana sales stood at US$913,519 and US$1,191,534 for retail marijuana.

I had a college professor who would often say, ‘when they say it’s not about the money, it’s always about the money.’

In 2013, former President Vincente Fox called for the legalisation of marijuana in Mexico. This is the same Vincente who launched a bloody war against drug pushers in Mexico that filled the morgues. Current and former Presidents of Central America are looking at legalisation taking cues from Portugal, Netherlands and most of Europe where possession of marijuana is no longer a crime.

In March 2014 CARICOM got into the mix of things by setting up a Regional Commission on Marijuana to engage in ‘rigorous enquiry.’

Before the commission could begin, Jamaica long a destination for hippies and weed tokers of North America and Europe struck the first match for CARICOM. Jamaica’s action was more a push from the North with a foot in with the legalisation movement gaining momentum in the United States and Canada.

While the Jamaicans have not openly spoken to this, massive legalisation in North America and Europe would certainly put a dent in the number of pilgrims who make their way to Jamaica to sample the lamb’s bread. Additionally the push towards medicinal uses could ultimately cut Jamaica out of any possible future weed markets as the Americans will corner the market with a jump on research and development.

Something has to give.

However, Minister of Justice Mark Golding has made it clear that ‘changes to the law are not intended to promote or give a stamp of approval to the use of ganja for recreational purposes.’

In other words, if you venture to Jamaica looking for smoking material, keep your glaucoma diagnosis on you at all times, just in case.

Jamaica, like Guyana is a founding member of CARICOM, but the smoke is blowing in another direction in Guyana. Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee when questioned on the matter boldly stated, “as we speak at this point in time, at twenty minutes to five, on the twenty-eighth day of January, the position and the policy of the government of Guyana is to pursue a zero tolerance policy in respect of trafficking in narcotics, possession of narcotics and any other form of activity in respect of drugs that are deemed illegal according to the laws of our country and according to the treaties and conventions of an international nature which we have signed on to.”

Guyana is a major trans-shipment point for marijuana and cocaine into North America, the Caribbean, Africa and now Asia, but those are minor facts easily overlooked.

Rohee’s statement has been interpreted by some to mean ‘over my dead body.’ Which is funny since CARICOM is headquartered in Guyana, and a short drive from the Guyana Police headquarters.

If ‘rigorous enquiry’ includes sampling, the Regional Commission on Marijuana must already have a legal fund set up. Possession of a joint in Guyana could get you a three year all-expense paid vacation on the house.

The American civil liberties union commissioned a study “The War on Marijuana in Black and White: Billions of Dollars Wasted on Racially Biased Arrests.” In June 2013 they released the results which were quite startling.

Between 2001 and 2010, over 7 million arrests were made in the United States for marijuana possession. While this was happening, on the black side of the tracks, the other side has been preparing and pushing for legalisation – with its many po$$ibilities.

Amidst all this talk there is no mention of expunging the records of all the Americans, particularly those Africans and Hispanics, whose lives were destroyed by jail sentences because of the so called war on drugs. Quite the contrary, as white middle and upper class clamour for drug legalisation the drug war rages on for the black and brown and poor.

The white middle class have not always openly embraced marijuana but all this changed with the 1960s counter culture. In 1970 National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws was formed to agitate for “the removal of all criminal penalties for the private possession and responsible use of marijuana by adults, including the cultivation for personal use, and the casual non-profit transfers of small amount.” NORML also advocates for “a legally controlled market for cannabis.”

NORML is basically a white middle/upper class affair. It has high profile persons like Bill Maher, Willie Nelson and Woody Harrelson on its Board of Directors. There are also other board members like Dr. Kary Mullis, who is the recipient of a Nobel Prize for his work in DNA.

Four years after NORML came High Times magazine which was originally meant as a spoof of Playboy with a cannabis plant as the centre fold. This year High Times is celebrating its 40th anniversary. It’s now a monthly magazine now with over 500,000 subscribers and the High Times Cannabis Cup is the number one festival for all things mary jane every November in Amsterdam which is a totally different affair from the High Times Medical Cannabis Cup.

In Europe and North America, middle class whites have been at the forefront for the push for marijuana legalisation. Today in the United States 22 states have various forms of legalisation for medical marijuana. 

Sean Azzariti an Iraqi war veteran suffering from PTSD was the first customer in Colorado to legally purchase marijuana. His purchase at the 3D Cannabis Center came up to $59.50. An eighth of an ounce of marijuana and chocolate truffles laced with marijuana. As mentioned earlier, Colorado Department of Revenue is counting its millions.

Washington State went on to set financial records that made Colorado sales look like child’s play with stores averaging $30,000 sales per day. That’s right, per day. It seems unlikely that this sort of financial success would have been tolerated had this been an African-American establishment in Harlem.

Often overlooked in the marijuana legalisation are the billions to be made from medical cures and treatments. By embracing cannabis sativa, the white middle and upper class have leaped ahead of places like Jamaica which people thought were the epicentres of all things marijuana.

I ran into a High Times editor on a beach in Costa Rica some years ago buying weed from a local boy. He said he was doing sampling for an article he was going to do on Costa Rican weed.

Of course he immediately thought we were siblings, because as they say, we all look alike. He kept going on and on about High Times which I’d heard about but Jimmy from Puerto Viejo had no clue what he was referring to. He waxed poetic about the greatness and depths of his marijuana knowledge.

To bring him down back to earth Jimmy told him to open his hands and dropped the weed on his palm. It must have been providence because a strong wind came before he could close his fingers. He lost it.

Do you know who I am? I am the editor at the High Times Atlanta office. You f*@#$%g people don’t know shit about weed. This is the way you treat an editor of High Times.

On his hands and knees in the sand he cursed us for poor packaging and marijuana selling ethics. His wife joined him. We laughed and headed back into Johnny’s. It was roots reggae night and the place was filling up fast.

In February, the Obama administration removed a major hurdle for marijuana related businesses. The Treasury Department allowed banks to offer services to marijuana related businesses in the 20 states and District of Colombia where various forms of legalisation are on the books. This is being allowed even though the federal government still deems recreational use of marijuana illegal. The Justice Department went a step further instructing prosecutors not to pursue marijuana related businesses once they follow a set of guidelines issued in August.

According to the Treasury Department, 105 banks and credit unions now have customers with marijuana related businesses.

As the middle class solidifies its financial position and set up the business infrastructure, universities and pharmaceutical companies are ramping up research and development. Meanwhile back in the Caribbean, the Regional Commission is still engaged in rigorous inquiry in nice smoke free rooms.

Inhale. Exhale.

E/N: Two days ago, the The Jamaican cabinet tabled a bill that legalises the possession of small amounts of marijuana.
(Photo by Arian Brown)



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