Winston Dookeran’s call for a discussion on the decriminalisation of Ganja is an opportunity to think about social change locally, and offers a potential way to reduce criminals, violence, and a lucrative underground economy.
There have already been a variety of commentaries offered in the local press. First came the conservative moral backlash. Then some lawyers spoke up, in less moral but still understandably conservative terms. Latterly a few commentators have come out in favour of not just decriminalisation but legalisation; pointing out the war on Ganja has already been lost.
In Portugal and Holland where it has been decriminalised, Ganja smoking across the entire population, after a short initial spike, reduced. And most importantly amongst under-18s who are the most vulnerable to mental health risks.
Some say Ganja arrived in the Caribbean via Amerindian groups. Others mention Spanish Conquistadors in the 1500s or suggest Ganja came from Africa with the slave trade. What we know for a fact is Ganja was brought to Trinidad in the mid 19th century by indentured labourers as a folk medicine and by the British themselves.
Toward the end of the 19th century the Colonial government using racist polemic demonised Ganja smoking. As is the way with neo-colonialism, and its failure to question many of the structuring principles from our Colonial past, this moralistic culture of disapproval echoes into our present thinking.
Ganja was made illegal locally in the first half of the 20th century. From this point forward and most desperately since the 1980s we have had a Ganja prohibition problem, rather than a Ganja problem. This is because just as drugs often have harmful consequences, drug prohibition has harmful consequences.
In the context of Ganja the law is also plainly unjust. For example, many middle and upper class persons in T&T drink alcohol in the evening to unwind; some in those same economic brackets do the same with Ganja. Yet those persons in the main do not end up in jail for Ganja offences.
While all groups across genders use Ganja, those who end up in jail for it are predominately young, male and low-income. This on-going, daily, 40-year criminalisation of a section of our population is a major cause of the troubles and the militarised violence we find ourselves with today.
In simple terms decriminalising Ganja would slow the conveyor belt of young men barred from acceptable society and left with few options for qualifications other than the criminal schools and universities we call gangs and prisons.
Before we suggest the solution is actually better law enforcement it is worth stepping back for a second and thinking about managing the problem. It is also important to recognise whether one backs the moral argument or the management argument, we are all on the same side. We all want to reduce the crime and misery accompanying the illegal Ganja economy.
From an anthropological vista – a bottom-up view of power locally – it is quite simple. Criminalising a cultural practice with a long history and well established locally creates its own dangerous consequences including organised crime, violent turf battles, and a waste of government funding that could be spent elsewhere such as education, prosecuting corruption, or improving transport.
There are many who suggest the scientific evidence says Ganja causes many health problems. Even if that evidence is as damning as many claim – and there is a lot of evidence to suggest some misinformation (see CNN’s Dr Sanjey Gupta’s recent video and article for a great overview) – it makes no sense to treat a health issue as a criminal matter or a personal moral failure.
To do so recruits the same racist logic of colonialism and produces a similar colonial inequality to times gone by.
The decriminalisation or legalisation of marijuana will not fix the problems of drug abuse, but it can fix the violent and socially unjust consequences of Ganja prohibition because no matter what we do Ganja is here to stay.
As such it seems pertinent to manage the problem and stop moralising it. Once we become managers we can take back some of the profit from the Ganja economy and find ways to bring it under a smartly regulated, legal system.
Ganja prohibition leads to crime, violence and corruption. It is a never-ending cycle that fuels what sociologists call the prison-industrial complex. To break the cycle we need to change the laws around Ganja and decriminalise many of our young males. In doing so we can start to provide better life options for them, decrease violence over all, and focus on the real danger drug – cocaine.
Dr Dylan Kerrigan is an anthropologist at UWI, St Augustine
The emerging field of contemplative neuroscience has begun to produce evidence for plasticity of pro-social preferences and motivation. Short- and long-term mental-training studies (such as the ReSource project) reveal that mental-training programs can enhance cognitive and socio-affective faculties like attention, compassion, and empathy. More specifically, training programs aimed at boosting pro-social motivation have led to increased activity in neural networks related to positive emotions and affiliation, as well as to reduced stress-relevant hormonal responses and increased immune markers, when participants are exposed to distress in others.
In other words, such mental-training programs make participants more efficient and more focused, while improving their capacity to cope with stress. At the same time, they promote pro-social behavior and a broader, less self-centered perspective that accounts for humans’ interdependence. Such findings have started to inspire fields like experimental microeconomics and neuroeconomics, which, in turn, have begun to incorporate pro-social preferences into their decision-making frameworks.
These promising findings should now be incorporated into new economic models and concrete policy proposals. Given that brains are at their most malleable during childhood, beginning mental training in school would help to create a solid foundation for the kind of secular ethics that would contribute to the development of a more compassionate society. But mental training also has benefits for adults, so businesses, political authorities, and research institutions should collaborate in establishing “mental gymnasiums.”
Furthermore, institutional reform could be aimed at adapting social environments to foster cooperation instead of competition, and to activate our motivation to engage in caring behavior, rather than seeking achievement, power, and status only. In the long run, striving only for the latter leads to imbalance and resource depletion not only on the individual level, but also globally.
Humans are capable of far more than selfishness and materialism. Indeed, we are capable of building sustainable, equitable, and caring political systems, economies, and societies. Rather than continuing to indulge the most destructive drivers of human behavior, global leaders should work to develop systems that encourage individuals to meet their full socio-emotional and cognitive potentials – and, thus, to create a world in which we all want to live.
All those, who think that they will be able to establish laws from the epoch of lawlessness, probably act short-sightedly. It will definitely catch up with them later.
What happens with the freedom of the Internet? We were told many times, that there can be no limits by definition. As it seems, this position, which was translated at international forums, was not at all a guide for actions of those, who promoted it in public. In practice, freedom of the Internet was abused and, probably, continues to be abused, as we say, very deeply. For the time being, this is probably causing a mess, at least in terms of morals and ethics.
You can pick any sphere, and it is always better to follow the rules, to respect peoples and help them reach an agreement with each other, rather than thinking in categories of “gunboat diplomacy”, stop to be sick [nostalgic] for the colonial past, the epoch, when they needed just to whisper for everybody to show servile obedience.
The world is changing today. It is impolite and short-sighted to perceive other civilisations as second class groups of the population. It will catch you up sometime in the future. We need to avoid the war of civilisations in all possible ways. We are for dialogue, for the alliance of civilisations. But in this case we need to respect each other’s traditions, the history of those communities, which become more and more significant on our planet, to respect the values, which have been created, established for centuries in these societies and were transferred from one generation to another. It is so simple – if you wish to get on well within your neighbours in your village, the same principles apply. A disregard for such principles in the international arena costs much more for taxpayers as well, and, the worst – for peoples’ lives, who then become “collateral damage”. This terrible term (collateral damage) was invented to justify the gross violations of international humanitarian law and is rooted deeply in those, who promote concepts like “responsibility to protect”, “humanitarian intervention” – when the motto of human rights is used to disrupt the most crucial right – the right to live….
In capitalism, owners together with about a fifth of the population who have highly empowered work decide what is produced, by what means, and with what distribution. Nearly four fifths of the population does largely rote labor, suffers inferior incomes, obeys orders, and endures boredom, all imposed from above. As John Lennon put it, “As soon as you’re born they make you feel small, by giving you no time instead of it all.”
Capitalism destroys solidarity, homogenizes variety, obliterates equity, and imposes harsh hierarchy. It is top heavy in power and opportunity. It is bottom heavy in pain and constraint. Indeed, Capitalism imposes on workers a degree of discipline beyond what any dictator ever dreamed of imposing politically. Who ever heard of citizens asking permission to go to the bathroom, a commonplace occurrence for workers in many corporations.
Capitalism’s ills are not due to antisocial people. Instead, capitalism’s institutions impose horrible behavior even on its most social citizens. In capitalism as a famous American baseball manager quipped “nice guys finish last.” More aggressively: “garbage rises.”
Story-telling makes us human because it helps us understand the human condition in different contexts.
Recent history has shown that the humanities are greater than the sum of its parts. An eccentric topic for an obsessed researcher may not seem to matter in light of national security or to the general public until we are caught off guard in a crisis when, as in the wake of September 11, we are pressed to learn about who we are, how to come to terms with atrocities, where we as a nation are headed, and why. The humanities are not a luxury; they are the very foundation on which meaningful lives are built. Skills in critical thinking, civil debate, and understanding narratives are vital