The drug policy L-word is popping up in the Caribbean island nation of Trinidad & Tobago these days, and at least one local newspaper is giving the theme prominent play. Located just seven miles of the coast of Venezuela, the reggae-inflected islands have become minor players in the shipment of illicit drugs from South America and, according to the US State Department, produce enough marijuana to meet domestic demand and then some.
There is no great drug-fueled crisis in Trinidad and Tobago, although the war on drugs continues apace and moral entrepreneurs worry publicly about the future of the youth. And some, at least, of the youth are embracing a hempen counterculture. But opposition to the drug war status quo is not coming just from the dreadlocked set.
In a speech at the University of the West Indies Trinidad campus February 9 and prominently reported in the Trinidad Express the next day under the headline "Legalize Narcotics," criminologist Maureen Cain told an audience of academics, activists, and law enforcement officials that drug use and the drug trade must be legalized. Drug prohibition had served only to "generate both more and new forms of violence," she said.
With the black market profits created by prohibition, drugs are a "valuable commodity," Cain said. "[The drug trade] makes money so guns can be bought. I cannot think of any other way to bring the price down. The only way is to legalize it." If drugs were made legal, she argued, there would be "a massive drop in price and a movement out of drugs to more lucrative trading opportunities by organized crime. Organized violence would decline and low-level pushers who put pressure on children and young people would become redundant."
Legalizing the drug business would also free up money currently spent on law enforcement and prison costs, allowing that money to be used elsewhere. "Initially there will be an increase in use and cost, but eventually money will be saved on that health problem of violence. Violence is a health problem."
Cain's speech isn't the only time the Trinidad Express has given prominent and sympathetic play to drug war dissidents in recent weeks. In an early January story, the paper interviewed singer Buju Banton about his pro-ganja beliefs weeks after the Jamaican reggae star was busted for Jah herb. "A how dem can lock up Buju fi a likkle ting like that?! More fire!" was how the Express expressed popular reaction to the bust.
And two weeks before that, the Express ran a feature on the opening of Mystic Hemp/Conscious Café and its founder, hemp missionary Troy Hadeed. After describing Mystic Hemp's merchandise -- hemp everything and Bob Marley posters -- and the Conscious Café's grand opening, the Express gave Hadeed the chance to "give Jah the glory," as he extolled the herb's virtues and criticized its downpressors. "I give you a helpful, everyday, nourishing plant, and you call it a narcotic, you call it a drug, you forbid it from being grown," he said.
One performer at the café may have been puffing on the stuff prior to her performance, if the Express's account is to be believed. A character in Crow face paint, white cotton bra and panties, torn army pants, and short brown boots calling him/herself Nikki B (for Bin Bad Bird) gyrated and pounced menacingly on the café's tiny stage before telling a befuddled audience that "The immensity of my density is beyond the realm of human comprehension."
But what is not beyond the realm of human comprehension in Trinidad, stoned or otherwise, is the realization that the drug laws must change.