Marijuana, Alternative Cash Crop to Bananas in the Caribbean?

Source:  TeleSUR
February 3 2016

ralph gonsalves 3

Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves on Wednesday said marijuana would be a suitable alternative cash crop to bananas for Caribbean countries, adding that five decades of commercial banana production has left many islands in the region in conditions of disaster.

“The upshot of the banana sector has been deforestation, erosion of the hills and valleys … it has been going on for nearly 50 years with bananas. So that when the rains come and you have flooding, the land gets washed away into the river. Trees themselves get dug out and they block up the rivers, mash up the bridges, destroy homes. And they kill people,” he said.

Research on marijuana as a viable commercial product

He told a major university forum in Barbados that it is time for the Caribbean to conduct serious research on marijuana as a viable commercial product, a statement that caused a positive reaction across the region, including in Saint Lucia, where residents have said his suggestion has merit.

“I feel, trust me, there will be more to export than the bananas, because you have more youth in the ghettos who will be happy to plant it, to sell it. The banana will not really sell fast like the marijuana,” said Saint Lucian chef, Valentine Clement James.

The economic benefits of marijuana

The Director of the Caribbean Drug and Alcohol Research Institute Marcus Day said it is time to give serious consideration to the economic benefits of marijuana.

“I think that we are being very shortsighted in our cannabis policy; our drug policy. I also think that looking at all the science that’s been revealed recently, there are not many downsides to using cannabis and there are much more benefits in terms of therapeutic use. So I think that it’s about time that we move into the 21st century and stop this prohibition that has caused much pain on a lot of people,” he stated.

Marijuana is illegal in most Caribbean countries

Currently, marijuana is illegal in most Caribbean countries, including Saint Lucia, but the 15-member Caribbean Community (Caricom) has established a regional Cannabis Commission to analyze the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

While opponents of decriminalizing marijuana say it will make it too widely available in society, citizens like Marius Modeste believe otherwise.

“The same way for rum. Rum is legal but some people choose to drink and some people choose not to drink. So the important thing you have to weigh is whether it is beneficial, whether it will help people when it comes to medicinal purposes and so on,” he said. “That is what is most important. So if at the end of the day the government sees that you can do something beneficial, the people can benefit and the government can benefit, I don’t see a problem with it.”

Proponents who support making marijuana the Region’s new cash crop have said that at the very least a collective needs to be created in order to have a Caribbean-wide approach to study the economic and other benefits of cannabis cultivation in the region.

One thought on “Marijuana, Alternative Cash Crop to Bananas in the Caribbean?

  1. Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, PM of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and all the other advocates for replacing banana cultivation in the Caribbean with Marijuana cultivation are not only right in their thinking but their thinking is in line with an increasing global trend for either the legalization of marijuana or at least its de-criminalization.

    However, though I believe that there are several merits for PM Gonsalves’ recent suggestion of replacing bananas with marijuana as a cash crop, I take some issues with his suggestion.

    Firstly, it seems to me that marijuana is more than capable of standing on its own merits as a legitimate cash crop as opposed to a cash crop to substitute for bananas or any other traditional crop being produced in the Caribbean for decades like corn or yams. There are several studies in favor of marijuana’s economic and medicinal benefits that are sufficient to argue for its legitimate existence as a cash crop on its own.

    Secondly,it is curious that PM Gonsalves suggested that marijuana would be a suitable cash crop to replace bananas for at least two reasons. First, St. Vincent and the Grenadines have been a banana producer and exporter for decades and so the PM’s observation of the environmental destruction of this traditional cash crop to his country and others in the region is valid and legitimate. Secondly, PM Gonsalves has been and is a scholar of the Caribbean economy for decades now and knows for sure that marijuana is an illegal cash crop in the Caribbean including in his own country. Thus, his suggestion to replace banana cultivation with marijuana appears to be putting the ‘horse before the cart’ particularly because of the geopolitical and practical logistical issues that would be associated with such a transition.

    In other words, it would probably be more rational to battle for the legalization of marijuana as a first step in the region including in St. Vincent and the Grenadines as an agricultural crop on its own merits prior to contemplating the replacement of a major traditional crop like bananas with it.

    Clearly, PM Gonsalves is not only a long standing Caribbean economist and scholar but he is a veteran politician who undoubtedly understands the political economy of his suggestion in terms of some of the likely disruptions in the Caribbean economies to transition from bananas to marijuana cultivation.

    Why then would the PM make such a suggestion given the sensitive political, economic and geopolitical implications that it carries particularly for the vested interests with millions of dollars invested in bananas and the stance of the US government and its law enforcement agencies so opposed to marijuana?

    Clearly, I don’t know the PM ‘s answer to my question though I am equally sure that he does.

    However, my guess at an answer to the question is two fold. First, I believe that the PM, being the smart man he is, was probably floating the idea as a serious proposition to engage thinking and debate among academics, farmers and policy makers about the possibilities of marijuana as an alternative cash crop for the region’s economy. The latter particularly in light of his legitimate claim that banana cultivation after more than 50 years has been overall more costly than beneficial for the Caribbean economy. Secondly, it seems that the St. Vincent and Grenadines PM was also likely posing marijuana as a replacement crop for the disaster bananas have turned out to be as an indirect way of forcing the debate about the legalization of marijuana in the region among the decision making elites.

    Perhaps another important point to be stressed here is that the region and its thinking has come a far way about marijuana relative to the many lonely decades of Rastafarians or “Bongo-man.” The latter single handedly propagated and fought for the legalization of marijuana or herbs as a legitimate gift of God and nature that man had condemned as illegal without any scientific evidence for their decision. For their decades of persistent advocacy the Rastafarians suffered multiple ridicules and harassment from the political and economic elites in the region.

    Indeed, the Rastafarian Reggae star, Peter Tosh’s celebrated song ” Legalize It” attests to the multiple economic and medicinal benefits of the herb that today economists and medical researchers in the Caribbean, the US and elsewhere have now confirmed. Not only have scientists confirmed the veracity of Tosh’s musical lyrics but more importantly they have now produced actual medical products from marijuana currently on the market for cataract and other ailments about which he sang.

    Today, the unequivocal economic and medicinal benefits of marijuana about which Rastafarians tirelessly spoke for decades as reasons for its legalization are now embraced by some elements of the political, educational and economic elites like the PM of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, CARICOM’s Cannabis Commission and increasing segments of the region’s scientific and medical communities.

    Needless to say, the research and debates about the economic and medical merits of marijuana must continue aggressively not solely to replace other agricultural crops but on its own merits as a source of employment, incomes and revenues for private businesses and governments in the region as states like Colorado, Washington and Oregon in the US are doing after leading the way in legalizing it.

    We in the Caribbean are running a little late in developing not solely our research capabilities but also our policy and strategic capabilities to develop a range of products like lipsticks, skin lotions, butter, clothes, teas and others for sales domestic and and foreign markets. So though we are late at least for some products that can be made from marijuana it’s better late than never. The potential for cannaibis is enormous as it relates to its by products, employment and its integration in the rest of the Caribbean economy. Indeed

    Marijuana has the real potential to be a sustained engine of growth in Caribbean economies to the extent that Caribbean leaders act courageously to take the legal and policy measures required to make it a reality before those up North steal our thunder!!!

    In this regard both Nelson Mandela’s and Voltaire’s admonitions are insightful to Caribbean leaders;

    “It always seems impossible until it’s done” Nelson Mandela

    “The Perfect is the enemy of the good” Voltaire

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