By Rhondor Dowlat
Caribbean News Now contributor
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad -- The marijuana industry could be a billion-dollar industry -- an industry that could change Trinidad and Tobago’s economic and social climate should it be decriminalised.
World renowned entertainer Paul David Hewson, known by his stage name 'Bono', poses for a photo with the head of Trinidad and Tobago's Decriminalize Cannabis Group, Shyam Singh (right)
This is the view of the head of the Decriminalize Cannabis Group of Trinidad and Tobago, Shyam Singh, and comes on the heels of similar concerns recently raised in Jamaica that the island might lose out on the economic benefits that could be derived from the commercial production of marijuana due to the reluctance of the government to decriminalise its use.
Singh, 40, of Chaguanas in Trinidad, is not only the head of this fast-growing social media group but also a successful entrepreneur and musician. He has been at the forefront of guitar playing in this country for the past 20 years. He also operates a hydroponic garden that can feed a small village.
Speaking with watzuptt in an exclusive interview, Singh said he strongly believes that cannabis (marijuana) prohibition reform is more important to Caribbean people than any other.
“We have learned that most Caribbean people were brought here from Africa or India to produce sugar cane to make rum. Indians brought ganja (marijuana/cannabis) seeds from India as it is an integral part in their culture. Suddenly, seven decades ago, some people somewhere decided that ganja was no good and forced the world into a drug war that criminalises innocent youths for nothing more than a flower in their pocket... whilst at the same time promoted legal substances, which are peddled by way of sexual images and this is government condoned.
“Now all the recent scientific research show that we have been lied to and cannabis is actually an essential herb with countless benefits to humans and animals. When you look at this in its proper context, this prohibition is a stripping of our cultures. Economically we can’t afford it either, as we have a growing number of cases needing medical support (diabetes is rampant, cancer is a death sentence here, asthma making life unbearable for some) we also have a large spiritual concern (over 30% of our population are or came from Hindu backgrounds. Cannabis is revered and recommended in the Vedas and is seen as a gift from God. Same applies to the Rastafarian and Boboshanti ; all of them citizens and taxpayers whose rights to practice their faith without prosecution by church and state went out the window less than 60 years ago. Then there is the recreational user and, yes, I see a lot of this, especially in people from 18-25. I'm a musician and own a music store. I've seen many of my customers and supporters thrown in jail with rapists and murderers for having a flower in their pocket or live in constant fear of losing their jobs, being arrested, while we see daily major artistes like John Legend, Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Sting -- this list can wear my fingers typing -- who have come out publicly and spoken about cannabis helping them,” Singh said.
Singh is a living testimony of how marijuana use helped him, thus strengthening his call for the decriminalization of the drug. He was born with severe asthma and suffered from frequent anxiety attacks.
“All my school life I actually never was able to make a field trip in my life, even my school friends at a recent reunion said ‘you were voted most likely to fail ... What happened?’…what happened is that I discovered cannabis at the age of 21. I was given a chance to live a 'normal' life henceforth. I was able to establish myself as one of the best musicians in the country. I was able to hold a job without the fear of getting sick when the work pressure builds. I was able to travel the world with an instrument. I was able to establish a business that services 90% of the local musical industry and clients that include the police service, schools, churches and many talented children with a dream. I also grow and operate a 4,000 site hydroponic garden. Without cannabis use, for me, none of this would have been possible,” he explained.
Many persons may be against decriminalizing marijuana because they may think that the youths of today use marijuana as a 'normal' vice so they just want the government to decriminalize it to accommodate their bad habit; however, Singh questioned the definition of vice.
“Many people are NORMAL (NORML is even an acronym of the National Reform of Marijuana Laws). What defines a vice? And what right do we have to dictate what medicine, spiritual path or recreational path a person uses if it has no harming effect on a third party and now even more proven on the individual? Bad habits such as overeating has caused way more health problems to the individual and put a strain on our medical system than cannabis. Look around, obesity is rampant... alcohol is socially abused in large groups (imagine that). Maybe we ought to reassess what we define as 'bad habit' as a society. Religion has caused genocide and mass murder across the globe. Since I am supposed to be the sovereign owner of my body, how can someone else dictate what I may or may not put in my body?” Singh said.
“Everyone has their own concerns regarding cannabis. Everyone is touched differently, the diabetic, the HIV positive, the cancer patient, the sadhu, the priest, the stressed, the praying, the artist and artistes... everyone. All have genuine concerns which are equally as important. A vice is only when society labels it as such. Our society has laws against drumming and anal sex... Which do we enforce? Do we bust into people's bedrooms and look?” he added.
Singh’s group is a Facebook-based entity and was created just over a month ago and already it has close to 2,000 members, excluding supporters in other forums.
Singh said he will soon be informing the relevant authorities about the group and its clear purpose.
“We would meet with anyone who is interested in listening to us including the prime minister. However, the group is currently seeking legal consultancy/representation to take the next step in terms of structuring/defining our purpose and requesting the presence of officials at events and briefings,” he said.
“We will also be looking to educating the public, public officials and media of new developments medicinal, social and economic and at the same time not promoting abuse of any illegal substance. We are planning to host events to raise awareness and funds for charity groups and homes for less privileged in our communities,” he added.
Recently, Singh began posting supporting research international articles on the Ministry of Health’s website; however, received silent opposition as the postings were all deleted.
“Our intention is always to educate and inform. If you are a steward of the state and cannot handle public concerns in a responsible manner then you are flawed. We have posted reports by reputable agencies and even testimonials of patients on many public pages and the information is being well received by the public. The Ministry of Health, however, seems to have an immature content manager who cannot communicate effectively to the public,” Singh said.
But this will definitely not serve as a deterrent for Singh and his group as they are already making inroads in connecting with other international and regional groups, who are on the same note.
“Our groups are in close consultation with groups from the US Virgin Islands, Jamaica, all the way to Argentina, South America, St Lucia, Barbados and Antigua. Also, the Caribbean Alcohol and Drug Research Institute (CARDI) and some international cannabis reform groups,” he said.
The group is already full steam ahead in putting out support merchandise.
“Already much entrepreneurial opportunities have manifested (such as the cannabis and hemp industry) where we see users coming up with designs and merchandising. That's the beauty of new industries. There is lots of room to develop. We greatly encourage persons to be involved. We have already purchased a number of domain names to host e-commerce sites, etc. There are also a number of (United) Caribbean sites coming online which I expect to work together, e.g.www.hightimescaribbean.com and soon to be launched an international site called CANNABILIA.COM (cannabismovement.org),” Singh said.
The cannabis industry could be a billion-dollar industry -- an industry that could change Trinidad and Tobago’s economic and social climate should it be decriminalized.
“Industrial hemp and its products are viable options to this country's prosperity. Cannabis revenue does not belong to the black market. It was handed to them only 50-60 years ago and now we need to take it back. We don't produce the harmful drugs (opium, cocaine, LSD, meth, etc.) we can grow cannabis and hemp. We can control our borders with the added revenue and saved human resources. International treaties in the past prevented this… now that the world is changing we need to embrace this or forever remain third world,” Singh said.