The Western Hemisphere, it seems, is the place to be for marijuana reform these days. In 2012 Colorado and Washington legalized pot, the first political entities anywhere on Earth to do so.
The next year, the South American nation of Uruguay joined them and became the first nation to legalize, regulate and tax cannabis.
So it shouldn’t be surprising that one of the world’s weed-friendliest regions is right next-door. Not only does the Caribbean produce an outsize amount of the drug, both for export and personal use, but some of its islands are ripe for legalization.
Cannabis is illegal everywhere in the Caribbean, but it’s widely tolerated. In some places, such as Jamaica, it’s an ingrained part of the local culture and industry. Personal use is typically overlooked, and even commercial cultivation is sometimes ignored.
And times are changing. Ganja, as the locals call it, is becoming ever more lucrative a crop. And politicians are ever more seriously considering reform as a means to save on justice costs and boost the economy.
“Marijuana is the brand new 21st century banana,” sad Camillo Gonsalves, overseas minister for St. Vincent.
The statement came during a March meeting of the 15-member Caribbean Group, a gathering of regional leaders to discuss marijuana issues. Topics ranged from decriminalization to medical marijuana to full legalization.
“It’s a concept whose time has come” said St. Vincent Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, chairman of the Caribbean Group. “We can’t proceed, frankly, with the drug insurance policies we have now had through the years.”
Impetus for change in the Caribbean is strong. Two U.S. states have legalized, largely neutering America’s historic ability to stop marijuana reform in smaller countries. Florida, a portion of which is essentially part of the Caribbean, is likely to adopt medical weed in November.
“Why are we not cashing in on the cash?” asked Conry St. Hillaire as he stepped into one of St. Vincent’s many spliff bars. “Why are we going to take a seat again and be penalized? America doesn’t need us to export it to them, so why don’t we attempt to get the individuals to return right here and spend their cash? Is sensible to me.”
Still, for how deeply accepted ganja is, popular support for legalization isn’t terribly strong. In Jamaica, perhaps the most hopeful spots for reform, just half the population wants to legalize.
“It stays a really vexing and contentious problem,” said Wendel Abel, professor of psychiatry at the College of the West Indies Mona. “However the public opinion is definitely shifting.”