The lost war

If the Government banned the sale, possession and smoking of tobacco today, no current smokers would give up their cigarettes by tomorrow.

And if the Government legalised the possession and use of marijuana today, no one who does not currently smoke marijuana today will start smoking tomorrow.

In matters such as these, the law is irrelevant to peoples’ behaviour. They continue to do what they do, even if they have to become secretive about it. The United States should have learned what happens when government bans something which enjoys a huge public demand. In the “prohibition era” when alcohol was banned, a massive crime wave swept the country, while every “law abiding” citizen, restaurant and club drank, sold and served alcohol. The United States declared a “war against alcohol,” which they could never win and finally repealed the prohibition laws.

Using, selling or growing marijuana is a crime because lawmakers made it a crime. And the banning of marijuana made the substance immensely popular among the counterculture, and marijuana became identified with that counterculture. That “identification” implying that mainstream adults did not use it.

And the only reason that there is a massive international crime wave ongoing regarding marijuana is because it remains an illegal substance. Organised crime thrives upon supplying goods that are in demand, but banned by law. And we in Trinidad and Tobago are among the victims of the “War on Drugs” still being fought, although long since lost, and nowhere in the world is this so-called war being won by those who oppose marijuana.

Just as had happened in the United States during Prohibition, thousands of people “employed” in the supply and delivery of drugs are being killed — in turf wars, gang fall-outs, and in battles with the police and armies. They are supplying the product to a “market” which is mainly not criminal, not violent, and which considers itself law-abiding in everything, but their use of marijuana.

The current ray of enlightened thinking as expressed recently by Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Dookeran, suggesting that we should consider the decriminalisation of marijuana, brings a measure of hope that we may end a large sector of criminal activity by simply declaring that it is not a crime. Indeed marijuana was sold under license in Trinidad and Tobago until the early 1940’s, I am advised. Premises were “Licensed for the sale of ganja and peppers.” It was apparently used by the rural Indian communities, as their social palliative at the end of their working day, much as we have our drink before dinner around sunset. Back then marijuana was hardly ever used by the rest of the population. But it is said that with the coming of the Americans in World War Two, they asked the British Government to ban the sale of the herb.

I support the legalisation of marijuana, and I have written on this before. I am not going to get into the discussions on the effects of marijuana on health, behaviour, and whether it is addictive or not. There is ongoing discussion on those aspects. But I believe that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, tobacco and many prescription drugs. The issue which should guide our decisions on marijuana is the fact that we obviously cannot successfully ban it and it therefore drives violent crime.

If the bans on marijuana were effective, and the trade and use of marijuana simply dried up, I would have no problem with that. But that is not the case: people who are productive members of society continue to use it, and do not consider themselves to be criminals, although they “support crime” in the acquisition of their supplies. Nowhere in the world, including in countries where marijuana possession is punishable by death, is there a working ban which has succeeded in ending marijuana use. It is time to accept that the “war” has failed, and to let the millions of people who use marijuana get it without having to support the crime involved in its growing and distribution.

Marijuana use should be restricted, like alcohol and tobacco, to adults and to persons who are not involved in careers like pilots, bus and train operators, or any activity where concerns for public safety can override the “right” of the individual to use it. This area can be monitored and enforced as is currently the case, by testing individuals to ensure they comply with the “no marijuana” requirements of their jobs.

But its use should not be a crime. And we should now return to the 1940’s and allow people to grow and smoke it if they wish. What do you think?


"The lost war"

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