Pubdate: Sat, 08 Mar 2008
Source: Jamaica Gleaner, The (Jamaica)
Copyright: 2008 The Gleaner Company Limited
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Popular)


It's not often that a minister of government speaks  candidly about a 
situation in which the law is being  broken, while acknowledging that 
the illegal activities  provide economic sustenance for a large 
number of  persons.

Agriculture Minister Dr Christopher Tufton did just  that on 
Thursday, speaking to farmers at the Bigwoods  Primary School in St 
Elizabeth after 120 hectares of  land were burnt and a number of 
animals killed earlier  this week, in what residents say was an 
attempt at  ganja eradication that got out of hand.

What Dr Tufton said was nothing earth shatteringly new.  As is often 
the case, though, it is the authority of  the source that makes the 
difference. And as  agriculture minister, as well as member of 
parliament  for South West St Elizabeth, he is authoritative when  he 
said, as was reported in The Gleaner yesterday,  that:

"It is the mainstay of the livelihood of many  communities and, 
without marijuana, they wouldn't be  able to survive."

He went on to suggest that an alternative to planting  marijuana be 
provided, along with the eradication  programme. Again that is not a 
stupendous leap in the  thought process, but the obvious has eluded 
those who  would take a slash-and-burn approach to the campaign 
against ganja growing.

The concentration of the population and economic  activity in the few 
urbanised sections of Jamaica,  especially the Corporate Area with 
Portmore being a  dormitory community where many residents rest their 
heads in between trips to work in Kingston, has  resulted in a 
distinct lack of moneymaking  opportunities in the rural areas. 
Marijuana, for which  there is a strong local demand (if the 
commonplace  possession cases which come before the courts are 
anything to go by), as well as from overseas (as the  seizures at 
departure points and the US's continued  interest in eradication 
indicates), would appear to be  the crop that fills this gap, if 
Tufton's statement is  to be taken along its logical path.

So, providing an alternative is imperative not only  because of 
economic sustenance, but also the fact that  growing marijuana makes 
criminals out of persons who  are liable to be locked up and tossed 
into a cell with  persons who have performed deliberately heinous acts.

What that alternative would be, though, is another  matter. For there 
is no crop in Jamaica which will  provide the returns for a farmer 
that marijuana does.

It is notable that Tufton did not suggest  decriminalisation of 
marijuana. We hardly expect a sole  minister of government to do so 
without a collective  stance by the party in power and, with the 
United  States and others in the country dead set against  production 
of the plant here, we also do not expect  such a stance to be made by 
any Jamaican government.

We do know, though, that this conflagration of crops  and emotions in 
St Elizabeth is but one in an  intermittent stream of such conflicts 
between the  authorities and citizens over marijuana at various 
stages in its trip from the soil to ingestion. And we  do know that 
if the police are to have the harmonious  relationship they appear to 
desire with the general  populace, this issue of consistent conflict 
will have  to be addressed.
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