Diversify the economy with marijuana cultivation

Diversify the economy with marijuana cultivation

Photo : Dr. Kumar Mahabir

A few days ago, Independent Senator Dr Dhanayshar Mahabir called for a debate in Parliament to legalise medical marijuana in Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) (Express Mar 27, 2018).

I wish to support the request by Mahabir (not related to me), and add that this country should also consider establishing licensed marijuana plantations, factories and pharmacies. In T&T, the cultivation, production, sale and possession of any form of marijuana products are illegal.

This country has been blessed in more ways than one. In the agricultural sector, the Moruga Scorpion pepper shot into the international spotlight as the “hottest pepper in the world.” The native soil has also produced Trinitario varieties of cocoa that are used by international manufacturers such as Ferrero, Cadbury, Nestlé, Mars, Hershey and Dove to flavour their chocolate products. T&T may well have the best soil, climate and technology to produce a unique variety of marijuana in the world.

In the bid to diversify the economy from the sole dependency on oil and gas, medical marijuana cultivation may well be the antidote to the problem. The dramatic drop in oil prices is a temporary challenge; the bigger problem is that the world’s dependency on fossil fuels may be phased out within 10 years, according to academics at the University of Sussex in the UK.

T&T should take a leaf from the page of the marijuana plantation and industry in Colorado in the USA named (interestingly) The Trinidad Harvesting Company. The licensed agricultural, medical and retail operation is located at Freedom Road (interesting name again) in the city’s industrial park.

Colorado’s US $1 billion dollar marijuana industry is flying high. It has breathed new life into rural, agricultural communities that are dying. The signal is that they too can construct marijuana plantations, factories and dispensaries to create jobs and generate revenue for the State.

Marijuana was cultivated on a large scale for domestic consumption and export by Indians in Trinidad as early as the 1880s, in Jamaica beginning in the 1860s, and even in Venezuela to which Indian indentureds escaped. When domestic supplies were not sufficient to meet local demand, British planters imported marijuana to the Caribbean until 1907.

Marijuana was also sold in the company stores on the sugarcane plantations to labourers who would use it on evenings to alleviate fatigue, stimulate their appetite and “turn off” from the memory of hard estate work.  Much information on the cultivation and use of marijuana is contained in the books, The East Indian Indenture in Trinidad (1968) by Judith A. Weller, and Trinidad during the 19th Century: The Indian Experience (2012) by Gerad Tikasingh.

There might be some doubt that marijuana was introduced into the Caribbean by Indian immigrant indentured labourers, but what is certain is that they introduced the knowledge of it as a psychedelic drug as part of their wide range of sadhanas [exercises] which led to spiritual ecstasy.

In 1884 during indentureship, the Surgeon-General in Trinidad wrote: “Patches of the Indian hemp [cannabis] cultivation [could be] observed wherever coolie huts [were] numerous. A planter of Cedros informed me that the coolie of that district had given up, in a great measure, growing vegetables because hemp was more profitable.”

To secure its share of the profit, the Governor of Trinidad passed legislation in 1885 requiring the payment of a license of $100 an acre to grow marijuana. His stated intention was to discourage its increasing cultivation and popular use which were believed to be “a prolific cause” of violent crimes and insanity.

Although C. B. Pashley, the Acting Surgeon-General, was unable to obtain statistics to show a correlation between marijuana use and violent behaviour, he nevertheless thought that marijuana was the source of violent crimes. The truth is that many Indian labourers feigned insanity as a strategy to escape the harsh inhumane conditions of indentured estate life.

A former indentured labourer in Trinidad recalled the sale of imported marijuana (“ganja”) by licensed individuals as a cheap substitute for rum. His original words have been documented in the book, The Still Cry: Personal accounts of East Indians in Trinidad and Tobago during indentureship, 1845-1917. He pontificated on the sacredness attached to the non-violent [ahimsa], non-carnivorous and jovial effects:

“Ganja is three cent/ three cent ganja/ e no drunk all a we/ dat time rum no selling/ whole half bottle is forty cents/nobody no want/ dem smoking ganja/ singing like hell/ eating like hell/ eating and singing/ ganja come from India an selling/ only sixty dollars license every year/ who selling ganja, dem no have no shop/ e have house.”

The local curative use of marijuana for diabetes, arthritis, etc. is documented in the book entitled Medicinal & Edible Plants used by East Indians in Trinidad and Tobago.