After Uruguay: Legalizing Marijuana in the Caribbean


In “Legalising ganja,” David Jessop (Director of the Caribbean Council) analyzes the Caribbean’s future vis-à-vis developments in Latin America—namely, the decriminalization of marijuana for domestic use in Uruguay. He reasons that the illegal cultivation and sale of marijuana as well as the international security industry stimulate economic growth in the Caribbean, and that, therefore, legalizing marijuana cannot be seen as relevant to the region. Hmmm, in other words, illegal activity is good for our economies? I do not find this argument convincing, but here are excerpts of Jessop’s examination of the issue.

[. . .] Uruguay’s objective is to create a regulated market in ganja, end local user’s dependence on the illegal production, and halt associated domestic criminality. It intends doing so by having the state control a legal local industry in ways that its President, Jose Mujica, says will recognise that marijuana is widely consumed in Uruguay – reportedly 200 tonnes per annum – while seeking to tackle what he describes as a mafia monopoly making huge profits enforced through murder and extortion. [. . .] The growing of the crop for export would remain illegal and all unlicensed activities could bring prison terms. The aim is also to fix the potency, price and purity, generate a new tax income and remove the value of the industry from criminal gangs. [. . .]

For the Caribbean, Uruguay’s new policy presents a number of challenges. Although not much spoken about the relationship between ganja production, consumption, export and economic and political stability has become something of a paradox in some of the more fragile economies of the Caribbean. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, ganja remains a cash crop in demand in the region and beyond. It acquires a high value because it is illegal and its cultivation theoretically clandestine. Because of this, if grown and traded, some of the income derived directly stimulates economic growth, especially within less diversified or small economies.

However, the same crop is also associated with violent crime syndicates who operate in other ways and whose actions threaten to subvert states and introduce individuals who believe they can be, and sometimes are, above the law. It, together with other narcotics shipped through the region, has fostered an enormous international security industry dedicated to tracking down the traffickers and maintaining its own existence which also puts money into local economies.

What this means is that if the industry ceased to be illegal, government would see a rapid withdrawal of cash from the economy and the slowing of economic growth, to say nothing of the instability it would create if those who control the industry are displaced to other areas of criminal endeavour. Secondly, marijuana cultivation for export in the region looks likely to increase, become more sophisticated and a growing challenge as greater interest is taken in its development by global crime networks.

[. . .] As Daurius Figueira, an academic and author in the criminology unit at UWI’s, St Augustine campus pointed out in a recent paper, as the Caribbean ganja industry diversifies and attempts to establish a pan regional integrated production involving high quality hybrids and high potency organics selling at between US$3,000 to US$5,000 per pound in the US, the region will become an offshore platform for a highly valuable illegal commodity. The narcotic is, he observes, now being produced in ways that make Guyana, with its large areas of available land and the opportunity to scale up production, increasingly attractive as a location. He notes too, the links between Haiti and Jamaica and how the product is exchanged for a range of commodities including guns which are then trafficked into the US, and how Jamaican interests, because of their early start in the ganja industry, are thriving.

[. . .] However, if the region becomes as Mr Figueira suggests a significant producer of new cannabis products, past experience shows that these will not only be used to finance other forms of crime, slavery, and even terrorism, but will come to corrupt, control and destabilise society.

Bluntly put, Uruguay’s experiment, though interesting, should therefore not be seen as relevant to the Caribbean.

For full article, see

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