Cannabis/ marijuana has deep historical, cultural and religious significance to Caribbean peoples. It can be traced to several ethnic, religious and cultural traditions within Asia, Africa and the Middle East and from ancient times, was known throughout history as a substance with healing properties. It was introduced during the post-emancipation period to the Caribbean countries of Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana by East Indian indentured labourers.
The designation of cannabis/ marijuana as an unlawful substance and a dangerous drug is of relatively recent vintage. For most of our history, cannabis/ marijuana was a free substance, grown naturally and easily throughout the region. Indeed, many CARICOM citizens have memories of their grandparents and forefathers using cannabis/ marijuana in benign fashion, such as “bash tea”, before the advent of prohibition, or, at least, its strict enforcement.
In spite of its social significance, the cultivation and importation of marijuana was officially criminalized in 1913 under the Opium Law in Jamaica and subsequent legislation expanded the scope of prohibition. Criminalisation elsewhere in the region came in the 1930s pursuant to the 1937 Dangerous Drug Ordinance in the UK. These were responses to international treaty formation which deemed cannabis/ marijuana a “dangerous drug” without value, despite the lack of scientific or medical data to support this classification, a status that has now been proven to be inaccurate. There is evidence that its acquisition of an illegal status was also due to attempts to stifle competition with alcohol, which had just emerged out of prohibition itself. Harsh, criminal penalties were imposed on cannabis in all its forms within a context of strict liability. This led to the demonization of the substance and the criminalisation and imprisonment of many persons in the Caribbean, often for possessing small amounts of the substance and even when using for medicinal purposes.....READ MORE