In March, police in Grande Riviere discovered seven fields containing 17,000 fully mature marijuana trees with a street value of $17 million. The crop was burned in an “eradication exercise.”
Reports like these are now commonplace.
Harder drugs are also routinely destroyed. This newspaper used an editorial earlier this month to commend the police for a $34 million cocaine bust at the airport.
Days earlier, at the launch of a new anti-drugs training course for regional law enforcement operatives, National Security Minister Edmund Dillon described the recent capture of a fishing vessel off the coast of Suriname carrying 4.2 tonnes of cocaine worth US$125 million – the largest seizure in the Atlantic since 1999.
This all seems like a monumental waste. Not just the recreational opportunities of the cocaine or the medical benefits of the weed, I mean the waste in potential revenue and tax that could help nations like ours flourish and diversify.
The money spent on policing the regional narcotics trade is phenomenal, and yet the busts are a tiny drop in the ocean. The war on drugs that Reagan invented as part of his world-policing, anti-communist agenda is irretrievably lost. Narcotics of every kind are produced, packaged, sold, shipped and consumed while the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and their regional police allies engage in skirmishes on the sidelines and celebrate them as important victories.
No matter how many tonnes of drugs are captured in Trinidad or across the region, many times more continue to be traded, transported and consumed.
At the 24th annual Caribbean Regional Drug Commanders Conference, hosted by the DEA and TTPS at the Magdalena Grand and attended by 27 countries including Mexico and Colombia, the US Embassy Charges d’Affaires John McIntyre reminded the press that America had “put millions and millions of dollars into our drug enforcement efforts and that commitment remains.”
Dillon thanked the US Government for its help.
But why is America so desperate to keep pouring money and resources, and risking its DEA agents’ lives, to police drugs in the Caribbean, Latin America and around the world?
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, since 1981, US$150 billion of tax dollars has been spent on intercepting Colombian cocaine, Burmese heroin and Jamaican marijuana bound for the US.
Imagine if, instead of that vast outlay, state-regulated American firms had legally purchased those drugs from internationally-monitored producers in those countries and responsibly sold them to consumers in the States. Consider the billions in tax that could be recouped and redistributed, rather than the billions spent on surveillance, court cases and detention. Imagine if the money made and spent on drugs on the black market went to responsible manufacturers, retailers and governments, rather than dealers and cartels who terrorise and manipulate the poor.
If we legalised drugs globally, countries with agricultural economies or the potential for them, like Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Afghanistan, Thailand, Jamaica, Trinidad, Nepal, Morocco et al, could produce and export drugs, transform their societies and alter the world’s economic imbalances.
And yet in the past few years, following decades of American-led criminalisation of marijuana, it is now American businesses with their high-tech growing equipment that are profiting from its legalisation.
Uruguay, Jamaica, Antigua and others have followed suit, decriminalising marijuana for small quantities and for medical purposes. The UK and Canada allow medical usage for specific conditions. But nowhere except the US and Netherlands has commercialised weed.
Why are other countries, including TT, lagging behind, allowing America to profit from a product it encouraged the world to prohibit since the 1930s? And will the international community also wait for America to decide that harder drugs like cocaine, ecstasy, LSD and heroin are also viable commodities for its citizens, while the violence and corruption created by criminalising drugs continues to damage the developing world?
Who gets to decide which drugs are a consumer product or a great evil?
Historian Yuval Noah Harari, in his book Homo Deus, says drugs that “strengthen political stability, social order and economic growth” – like Ritalin or Prozac – gain approval, while drugs that merely bring pleasure are seen as “an existential threat to the social and economic order.”
The result is that half of all prisoners in America and 55 per cent in Britain are incarcerated because of the drug trade.
If we can move past the morality that says rum is socially acceptable but marijuana isn’t, or that legalising drugs increases usage – the opposite happened in Holland after weed decriminalisation in 1976 – we can instead see drugs as economies, growth, capital, healthcare and tourism.
Instead of kowtowing to outdated international laws policed by the Global North, Caricom and Latin American states can legalise and develop a world-leading marijuana industry and throw off the economic shackles that keep them down.