Tuesday, June 15, 2010

No, I don't smoke weed

Tuesday, 15 June 2010
Yes, I am from the Caribbean but No, I don't smoke weed

The first dinner party I hosted in Europe with a Caribbean theme took place within the my miniscule room situated within the secluded loft of my leafy college, for a few fellow student union members. I remember assiduously cycling to Mill Lane to purchase ripe hands of over-yellow plantains, pungent bottles of caramel browning and jerk sauce, hoping to impress with pure guesswork, my then unhoned culinary skills and a few bottles of overproof rum. It went well – meaning no one was violently and instantly ill) but there was a dip of disappointment as everyone looked expectantly in my direction for the perceived traditional Caribbean petit four of some wacky backy: high grade, home grown weed. I think I was too embarrassed to say that I did not smoke, and I concocted a half hearted excuse of having none “at the moment”. I was petrified to admit the bare truth: I had never smoked weed in my entire life.

Since then, however, I have been surprised at how many people expect me to be a ganja connoisseur. “Surely you were surrounded by it”. Yes. “Is the weed in the Caribbean stronger and purer?” I haven’t the foggiest but I suppose so- we do everything better in the Caribbean. “Can you post us some when you go back?” Heck no. I would probably know where to get it, but they would probably refuse to sell it to me, and then tell my mother who would give me a proper licking, even at my age. So would the woman at the Post Office.

A guy I used to date briefly once complained “You are so goody-goody, so square”, and tried to persuade me to try a cigarette. Asthmatic that I am, I was puffing and huffing at the sheer odour before the darned thing ever had the front to get to my lips. The constant requests for sweet lucy probably means that I have been probably been very unsuccessful in harbouring home the fact that although the Caribbean has a deserved reputation for being ultra cool and chillaxed, the easy-going attitude of its residents has nothing to do with cheeky cannabis. Many are surprised to know that in general, Caribbean culture is very conservative, in fact almost prudish when it comes to attitudes towards drugs and alcohol.

For example, away from the cannabis analysis, beer is not considered to be a woman’s drink. Nice girls would never drink beer. At parties, fetes and social gatherings, most women would have the sweet barley based non-alcoholic malta. For those feeling a bit adventurous, maybe watered down rum and Coke; the more well-heeled would have a glass or two of wine. A woman bearing a Heineken or Carib or Stag proudly (except maybe at Carnival) would be looked upon oddly. (Personally, I don’t care. There is nothing like a beastly cold beer on a hot day.)

Weed, on the other hand, is another thing altogether. It is strange because I quite like the smell. I can match certain childhood memories with its fragrance permeating the air, almost like nature burning her incense. My neighbour was a heavy smoker and he often congregated on the walls of the old battered bakery behind our house with his pals, lighting up several ounces of spliff at a time and ruminating on obscure topics in the indolent and sluggish way that only men who are high can. Smoky billows wafted across, under the gospo tree, and over the wooden fence to provide the sweet-smelling olfactory footage that accompanied me while I was doing my homework. My neighbour across the road sold it and the number of heads that disappeared in between the two stone houses on a daily basis, was like a Catholic procession. The weed disciples would leave the trading temple, stoned, eyes bloodshot but displaying lackadaisical signs of peace. The pungent aroma was never far away on big celebratory occasions and activities. To be honest, on most Sunday afternoons. I often saw large trays of dried marijuana at the home of a friend, whose father built up a steady relationship with la marijeanne. I was somehow, never tempted. I was never presented with it (it would be an affront), and the idea of smoking even a cigarette was so preposterous to me, that it never crossed my mind. None of my friends smoked. Cheeky drinking was more daring, and yes, more acceptable.

Fact is, Caribbean countries’ attitudes towards cannabis varies. The Holy Herb, revered by Rastafarians, occupies a unique musico-cultural and historical significance in Jamaica, for instance. It is by far the largest manufacturer and exporter of marijuana. That is not to say that the official stance is not decidedly miltant, to comply with European and American big stick anti-drug policies. I would say that there is an attitude of grudging tolerance. Contrast St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which after the collapse of the Caribbean banana industry, has occupied a singular place as having the largest and most systematically cannabis fields in the Eastern Caribbean. The topography of hilly mountainous land and the liberal attitude of Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves easily lend themselves to covert farms in the inaccessible north. Mr Gonsalves was elected on a mandate of “Rastafari, I am your friend” and he currently leads the charge for the decriminalisation of marijuana in the region, especially for those who use it for religious rites. In Grenada, and many of the other Caribbean islands, weed is readily available and sold on the black market although there is a faux militancy about its use and cultivation. A few ganja farmers’ plantations are targeted sporadically to appease the Christian religious communities.

I have a fairly level-headed attitude towards consumption of marijuana. I believe in its decriminalisation for personal consumption for the mere reason I think law enforcement should be freed up to deal with child abuse, sexual abuse, incest, cocaine trafficking and other more serious and harmful offences.. After all, Bill Clinton, David Cameron and Barack Obama all admit to smoking weed and they have not turned out too shabbily.

I do not think it should be legalised, primarily because it would ultimately become useless for income generation, as with all other products, India and China will ultimately flood the markets. There is a hope that perhaps, Caribbean grown cannabis can become like Habanero cigars, a luxury product but the debate on legalisation will come in a subsequent blogpost. For me, however, I am a risk-adverse person so I am unlikely to touch it, especially having heard of and investigated the link between ganja and paranoia, depression, long term memory loss and schizophrenia, especially among young black people. No thank you very much. I can’t help thinking that I might just be that one person who goes off the rails, thinking I can fly after just that one spliff, and I am too much of a scaredy-cat to justify the jeopardy. Let’s just say that the number of young, potentially productive persons I have seen walking around like lethargic zombies, red-eyed crusts of their former selves truly startles me. Call me dull, call me wet around the ears or boring. I can do without this high. Please can I have a bottle of Ruinart instead.

Posted by kimaspeak.blogspot.com at 10:14 http://kimaspeak.blogspot.com/2010/06/yes-i-am-from-caribbean-but-no-i-dont.html