Cultivating alternatives: Towards a regional cannabis model

Kevin Edmonds
Caribbean Journal of International Relations and Diplomacy
Volume 3 Number 2, June 2015

cultivating-alternativesThe decriminalization and regulation of cannabis has been occurring in many jurisdictions in the United States – but also closer to home and more significantly in Jamaica. While unable to directly compete with these long-established producers, the Windward Islands are home to their own significant, albeit illegal, cannabis economy. A pressing task facing the cash strapped governments of the Windward Islands, particularly St Vincent and St Lucia is to capitalize on the current climate of drug reform and adopt creative decriminalization policies which will ensure that they are able to transition the employment, income generation and value added opportunities from the ganja economy to the legal economy.

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The failure of trade liberalization to provide sufficient employment across the Caribbean has led to the troubling growth of the informal drug-based economy as a coping strategy for many impoverished rural and urban communities. In many ways it can be argued that this is an unintended, albeit devastating, example of the free market at work—particularly in the Windward Islands of St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines.

The key purpose of this brief is to provide context on the current socio-economic situation of the St Lucian and Vincentian case studies, documenting how ganja farming has become an important part of the respective economies. The secondary goal is to introduce policy measures aimed at decriminalization that can be implemented by the respective governments in order to ensure that the Windward Islands do not miss out on the opportunity to become active and innovative players in the rapidly emerging licit ganja industry.


While it would be sensible to think that the majority of individuals engaged in the cultivation of cannabis would have been in favour of its outright legalization, my fieldwork highlighted that this was not the case. The decriminalization of cannabis will have important benefits with regards to reducing incarceration and judiciary costs, in addition to removing the criminal penalties of cannabis possession which have given so many people a serious criminal record for a very minor offence.

While the legalization of cannabis is often hailed as a panacea by those in civil society, the Caribbean will still face important structural limitations in regards to achieving long term, equitable growth. Given their small size, inability to achieve economies of scale and a limited resource base, it is very likely that even with the eventual legalization of cannabis cultivation the problems inherent to small island developing states will still hinder the economic and social development of St Lucia and St Vincent. As a Senator from St Vincent, Jomo Thomas remarked concerning the lingering issue regarding economies of scale: ‘There are marijuana fields in Kentucky larger than the entire island of St Vincent’.

This is why the region must act in concern to bring about reforms which not only change the laws, but act to capture the economic benefits associated with the creation of a regulated marijuana market. Thus, if Caribbean governments are not careful, they will soon be importing the very same ganja that they were demonized and punished for producing for so many years.