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You can tell you’re a Trinidadian in many ways but the most reliable indicator is that you arrive everywhere a day late and a dollar short—and it’s been that way ever since the people who used to tell us what to do left our shores, and left us high and dry. (It’s also true of most of our West Indian neighbours: from Jamaica to Guyana, we’ve destroyed any semblance of civilisation we had.)
Now things were never rosy for almost all of us. The earliest inhabitants of these territories fared the worse, being actually killed off swiftly either by European diseases or the Europeans who brought the diseases here. In Dominica and Guyana you may find pureblood Amerindians but most of the people pretending to be Caribs in Trinidad could more legitimately claim to drink them.
The next group that constituted the bulk of our populations weren’t much better off: let’s face it: there are very little career opportunities in being a slave. Your big hopes are to be promoted to a life of demeaning servitude under a hot roof instead of one under a hot sun, and to have a child of your own made with love, not one courtesy of the lust of the plantation/person owner.
Perhaps the last wave of sufferers to wash up on these shores was a little less blighted than its predecessors, but only because the poverty the new arrivals left in India was so very extreme as to make attractive a five- or ten-year indenture that was, at worst, barely distinguishable from slavery, and, at best, not much different from a prison term.
So there are very good reasons we didn’t develop institutions of government, education and welfare over hundreds of years: we were too busy catching our a-- to just survive; but you would think we learnt a bit of common sense in the 50 years or so that we’ve meant to be thinking for ourselves.
Right now, all around the world, countries are racing to legalise marijuana. In the USA, anti-weed states will fall like dominoes over the next few years and, very soon, marijuana in the US will be a recreational choice like vodka or scotch, with its only opposition likely to come from the anti-smoking lobby, who will object to the smoke, not the ganja itself. Before we blink twice, Americans will be growing their own in such a big way that Caribbean ganja, though far better, or at least far more organic, will have no chance of competing; and we will have lost our one chance for fair trade.
Jamaica, always the most country-like of our little neo-slave societies pretending to be real countries, has not dropped the ball this time. With Bob Marley as an established global brand, with reggae the greatest stoner music created east of the Grateful Dead and with Rastafari, the religion that sanctified the herb, all pulling in their favour—and nothing else going for them beyond all-inclusive-tourism and a bucket or two of bauxite—the Jamaicans would have to be permanently firetrucking stoned not to legalise. For the first time since a pound of sugar sold on the London market for a pound of gold, Jamaica stands to make real money.
We could, too. If our Prime Minister was a fraction of the leader her advertising makes her out to be, she would see the immense possibilities of legal marijuana. It would lift many of us out of the poverty trap. It would stop citizens from every walk of life, including judges, surgeons, Cabinet members and priests from being lawbreakers. It would promote West Indian unity while sewing up the ganja tourism trade—only Hawaii could compete with Maui Wowie and surfing.
It would create pride in agriculture at last and possibly help correct our hatred of our own land (and ourselves). It would free police to do real criminal work. It would stop us all from being hypocrites every day of our lives, if only because there are very few of us who think that marijuana is dangerous; and, crucially, it would stop us from being a day late and a dollar short: when the Americans, at whose behest we continue deeming marijuana to be illegal, fully legalise, we will be one step ahead of them, for the first time.
But our Prime Minister has chosen, instead, to make the keystone of her general election campaign that at least she’s not black like Opposition Leader Keith Rowley, the Great Rawan Hope of the UNC. But she’s actually ahead of the Opposition Leader, whose public comments suggest he is actively against legalisation; sadly—and it’s the only real black mark against him, other than his complexion, of course—he’s trapped between the rock and the hard place that is Pentecostal church support.
But, if ever there were an issue that would separate the two main parties—other than race—it is ganja. The issue is very clear for a lot of clear-headed people of all races in the country (who, it would seem, don’t smoke themselves, witness said clear-headedness). From Chief Justice Ivor Archie through UWI Professor Emeritus Ken Ramchand, through businessman Emile Elias and former Congress of the People leader Winston Dookeran to me, it is as plain as the nose on Owen Wilson’s face that we must legalise, or at least decriminalise, marijuana.
Find a political party that advocates legal marijuana and you find one that deserves the country’s vote. If we are going to be a day late and a dollar short, we should at least arrive with something to smoke.
• BC Pires would rather be a crack head than a crackpot. E-mail your e to him at [email protected].
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