Sound of the Trumpet: Intimidation, Aid & CARICOM

Me bun a fire pon a weak heart
Babylon and dem free talk coulda never get me down
And though they try to use me
And abuse me
I leave dem with a frown

. . . Fire!
You and your crew can go to Hell
‘Cause after we no under your colonial spell

– Bushman, “Fire Bun A Weak Heart”

1060x600-0ea42119085487b05457fde5473edc01Trump’s Christmas Gift to Netanyahu

‘Twas the week before Christmas, and the whole world was talking about Jerusalem. US President Donald Trump, champion of religious right and unabashedly pro-Israel, announced that he was moving the United States’ embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The US Government called the move a recognition of “reality on the ground.” They cited their sovereign right to locate their embassy where they wanted, as well as a decades-old, oft-delayed Congressional decision to relocate the Embassy.

The only problem was that successive American, Israeli, Palestinian, Russian and European governments had called Jerusalem a “final status” issue – so sensitive that it should be decided only after other aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process were settled. A United Nations Security Council resolution dating to 1980, “called on. . . [t]hose States that have established diplomatic missions at Jerusalem to withdraw such missions from the Holy City.” Multiple UN resolutions forbade states from doing anything that would jeopardize the peace process by taking actions that would “alter[] or purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem.”

But the announced move of the US embassy did just that. It was a recognition of Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was ecstatic. Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority, was apoplectic. The Muslim world was furious. Clashes between Palestinians and Israelis in Gaza claimed 12 lives. The wider international community – including some the USA’s staunchest allies –was concerned about the impact such a move would have on peace, security, and the fabled “two-state solution” of a secure Israel and a secure Palestine living side-by-side, in peace.

This international concern quickly morphed into a United Nations resolution that reaffirmed international consensus on Jerusalem and declared the US embassy move – without ever naming the USA – as “null and void.” The meat of the resolution is in these three paragraphs:

Stressing that Jerusalem is a final status issue to be resolved through negotiations in line with relevant United Nations resolutions,

Expressing in this regard its deep regret at recent decisions concerning the status of Jerusalem,

Affirms that any decisions and actions which purport to have altered, the character, status or demographic composition of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded in compliance with relevant resolutions of the Security Council, and in this regard, calls upon all States to refrain from the establishment of diplomatic missions in the Holy City of Jerusalem, pursuant to resolution 478 (1980) of the Security Council

The vote on the resolution was set for 21st December.

NaughtynNice_List_16x9Trump and Nikki Haley Prepare Their Naughty/Nice List

As soon as the resolution was announced, President Trump and his UN Ambassador, Nikki Haley began an unprecedented and undiplomatic threats that were widely derided as “bullying,” “blackmail” and “thuggish” behaviour. Ambassador Haley sent personalized letters to all UN Ambassadors, with an unsubtle threat that President Trump was going to take the vote “personally,” and that he would be “watching this vote carefully and has requested I report back on those who voted against us.” Ambassador Haley followed up her letter with a series of television appearances and social media pronouncements where she promised that “the US will be taking names” of votes that didn’t line up with their view on Jerusalem. President Trump backed his Ambassador’s threats, explicitly linking votes on the resolution to receipt of American foreign aid.

Where past American administrations sought to downplay the significance of UN votes that they were likely to lose, the Trump White House decided to make it a cause célèbre, and devoted extraordinary diplomatic and political capital to altering the outcome.

The Result? 128 supported the resolution, in spite of the threats. Nine countries – including the US – lined up to vote “No.” 35 countries voted to “Abstain,” and another 21 apparently had something better to do at the time, failing to show up to vote altogether.

5440390625_feab8a9520_bA Trump Bump? Tallying Up the Effects of Trump’s Gambit

The day after the vote, the US press styled the passage of the resolution as a “stinging rebuke” of Trump, a “dramatic rebuke,” as “Defying Trump,” and as a “resounding rejection” of Trump. Ambassador Haley, on the other hand, claimed some measure of victory in the number of countries that didn’t vote “yes” on the resolution. The reality was far more complex. The overwhelming majority of countries – close to 70% – could claim, with some justification, that they were simply voting in line with their long-standing views on the Palestine-Israel issue, Trump or no Trump.

A second subset of countries – about 16% of the UN Membership – would have a hard time convincing anyone that President Trump’s threats didn’t make them at least little wobbly in the knees.

Finally, in the “stinging rebuke” camp, a few countries – about 12% of the UN – certainly seemed to stiffen their spine in response to US pressure. However, even among that 12%, there are a number of plausible non-Trump reasons to explain their votes.

Within CARICOM, voting positions ran the gamut, from consistency, to a disturbing number of possible wobbles, to at least one country on whom the US threats had the opposite effect. More on CARICOM later.

compare-travel-insurance-plansComparing Votes: One of These Things is Not Like the Other

Five years ago, the international community was faced with a far more vexing problem in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Whether to officially recognize Palestine as a state – albeit a “non-member, observer state” of the United Nations. The USA, then governed by President Obama, opposed the resolution. The US made no secret of its opposition to the resolution, and campaigned against it. However, as is typical of the stylistic differences between Obama and Trump, the USA’s 2012 anti-resolution efforts were far more respectful and decorous. The vote, however, was remarkably similar:

2012 vs 2017

Now, it must be said that, all things being equal, it should’ve been easier to vote for the 2017 resolution than the 2012 one. The 2012 resolution was breaking new ground (international recognition of Palestinian statehood), while the 2017 one was simply restating settled and consistently-held positions from at least the last four decades. Nonetheless, the resolutions also serve as rough proxies for States’ positions on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. You would expect most countries’ vote on the 2012 resolution to be replicated on the 2017 resolution.

The numbers bear out this theory: 132 of the UN’s 193 member states voted exactly the same way in 2012 as they did in 2017. “Yes” votes remained “Yes.” “No” votes stayed in the “No” column. Abstainers continued to abstain. One country – Ukraine – skipped both the 2012 and 2017 votes. For ease of analysis, we’ll say that this 68% of the UN membership was unmoved by President Trump’s added pressure.

That leaves us with the 61 countries whose vote changed between 2012 and 2017.

Five of those countries changed their vote from abstaining to not voting at all (Mongolia, Moldova, Samoa, San Marino, Tonga). Kiribati, on the other hand, skipped the 2012 vote but showed up to abstain on the 2017 resolution. I believe that skipping the vote altogether suggests that you might have heeded the sound of the Trumpet, but it’s hard to say. Most of those countries have tiny UN Missions. The vote was close to Christmas. It’s possible they’d already left town for the holidays. I’ll exclude those six countries as “inconclusive” and focus on the remaining 55.

Only one country in the entire 193-Member UN General Assembly made a barefaced, 180-degree switch from “Yes” to “No” between the 2012 and 2017 resolutions: Honduras. This is understandable. Honduras’ right-wing government just unabashedly stole an election, and is counting on the USA to continue turning a blind eye to that blatant fraud. If I were the Honduran President, I’d also be shining Trump’s shoes and taking out the White House garbage.

Every other country weakened or strengthened their position by a half-measure; moving from abstain/absent to yes/no or vice-versa.

31 countries weakened their vote in the face of the increased US pressure:

Vote wekeners

These are the countries that should have special seats at the Nikki Haley reception to celebrate Trump’s power. If they’d voted consistent with their 2012 positions, there could’ve been as many as 157 “Yes” votes instead of 128.

Some of these changed positions have obvious answers. Trump’s rhetorical assault on Mexico and Mexicans has them reluctant to engage the US on anything not related to NAFTA or the Wall. Myanmar is terrified that the USA will take greater interest in their on-going Rohingya genocide. South Sudan is almost entirely dependent on aid, and that aid is already under threat. Guatemala’s new President, Jimmy Morales, is a staunch right-winger who recently received an honorary doctorate from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is keen to strengthen Guatemala’s historically strong ties with Israel. He’s already announced his own plans to move Guatemala’s embassy to Jerusalem.

However, if you believe that Trump scared people into changing their vote on Jerusalem, start with this list.

On the other hand, if you’re looking to make a case that Trump was rebuked and defied, there is another, shorter list, that can help you make your case. In spite of the Trump/Haley pressure, the following 24 countries “strengthened” their vote relative to the 2012 baseline:

Vote strengthener

It’s fair to say that the European Union is less fond of Trump than Obama. Also, the EU is significantly invested in the Israel-Palestine peace process and is part of the Quartet that has always declared Jerusalem to be a final status issue. Many of the changes from “Abstain” to “Yes” probably reflect EU votes in support of their own interest in the peace process. Nine of the 24 “strengthened” votes are EU members.

One of the more interesting votes on this list is Canada’s “Abstain.” Many expected Prime Minister Trudeau to be more progressive than his predecessor, Stephen Harper. And, on this issue, he was: moving Canada’s vote from a “no” in 2012 to an “abstain” in 2017. The fact that Canada stopped short of a “Yes” vote may be rooted (like Mexico) in ongoing NAFTA renegotiations with the Trump administration, or in that fact that, on reflection, Trudeau’s progressiveness is limited to local issues (Marijuana, LGBT rights), and not global affairs.

So, was there a Trump bump? Was he resoundingly rejected by the international community? The answer is mixed. At the extremes, you can argue that 16% of the UN Membership “capitulated” to Trump, while 12% “poked him in the eye,” and the remainder ignored him. That is an overly simplistic summary of the numbers. However, for all the bombast and hyperbole, all the tweet storms and threats, a net of at least seven countries undeniably moved Trump’s way. The real impact of the threats was undoubtedly greater.

fe769c3598c14f0b4b3d624a25843b8bThe USA’s Aid Threat: A Decision in Search of a Justification

On the eve of the vote, President Trump made an explicit threat to cut aid to countries that voted in favour of the Jerusalem Resolution: “They take hundreds of millions of dollars and even billions of dollars, and then they vote against us,” he said. Well, we’ll be watching those votes. Let them vote against us; we’ll save a lot. We don’t care.”

Here’s the problem with that threat: Well before the UN vote on Jerusalem, the Trump administration had already decided to radically slash US aid.

In March 2017, the White House released an official document called America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again.” That document, published way before any brouhaha over the Jerusalem resolution, pledged to “Reduce[] funding to the UN and affiliated agencies,” to “Reduce[] funding for multilateral development banks, including the World Bank,” and “Refocus[] economic and development assistance to countries of greatest strategic importance to the U.S.” The cuts to the US aid budget were predicted to be 28%, or $10 billion less than 2017.

[The budget document also pledged to “Eliminate[] the Global Climate Change Initiative and fulfills the President’s pledge to cease payments to the United Nations’ (UN) climate change programs by eliminating U.S. funding related to the Green Climate Fund and its two precursor Climate Investment Funds.” But that’s a whole different blog posting.]

More tellingly, there was concrete evidence that the US Government had already drawn up plans to gut American aid globally. In an article called “The End of Foreign Aid As We Know It,Foreign Policy magazine detailed a series of planned cuts to the American aid programme that would completely eliminate foreign assistance to many countries. Foreign Policy magazine quoted from a leaked 15-page State Department document that detailed massive cuts across the board. According to that document, cuts to the Caribbean include:

Vanishing Aid

Setting aside the special case of Haiti for a moment, US aid to the Caribbean, in this document alone, is scheduled to be slashed from $62.52 million all the way down to $26.8 million – an almost 60% reduction. Most of that remaining money is in assistance in the field of health. Development assistance to Jamaica, Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean is scheduled to be cut to $0.00 in 2018.

That’s zero dollars.

Again, this document was leaked to Foreign Policy a full eight months before President Trump and Ambassador Haley started claiming that there was a link between the Jerusalem vote and aid.

Clearly, then, the White House and the State Department have already given considerable thought to cutting aid, and have decided where they want that aid to be cut. What they were looking for was a justification for their planned steep cuts to the aid budget. The Jerusalem vote was as good a justification as cover for the planned cuts.

Those countries hoping for a holiday aid miracle may soon realize that the Grinch had already stolen Christmas.

T&T sayings 006CARICOM: Cockroaches in the Fowl Fight?

Caribbean folk wisdom from Trinidad to Jamaica cautions that cockroaches should stay out of fowl parties and fights. A glance at how a divided CARICOM voted on the Jerusalem resolution suggests that more than one country may have elevated this local edict to the level of foreign policy.

CARICOM votes

Six CARICOM states kept their 2012 “Yes” vote as a “Yes” in 2017 (Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Suriname and Saint Vincent & the Grenadines). Both the Bahamas and Haiti remained consistent in abstaining both times.

Barbados strengthened its position, abstaining in 2012 and voting “Yes” in 2017 despite the increased pressure.

The remaining five CARICOM States: Antigua, Jamaica, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, and Trinidad all took a half-step back from their 2012 vote. Both St. Lucia and St. Kitts decided to skip the vote altogether. [In a post-hoc justification of her country’s absence, the Foreign Minister of St. Lucia certainly sounded as if her vote – if cast – would have sided with the USA.]

A few troubling stats about the CARICOM voting record on this matter:

  • While 68% of the wider General Assembly remained consistent from 2012 to 2017, only 57% of CARICOM states did.
  • Only 16% of the General Assembly weakened its stance from 2012 to 2017. However, 36% of CARICOM changed to a weaker posture.
  • CARICOM makes up 7% of the UN Membership. However, CARICOM states comprised 16% of the countries that adopted a weaker stance.

What does this disproportionate representation among the abstainers and absentees say about CARICOM? Depends on how you look at it. One answer could be that all five weakened votes came from countries that changed governments between 2012 and 2017. Maybe these governments, which collectively represent a slight rightward shift, philosophically, would also have abstained or absented themselves from the 2012 resolution if they had the chance.

Another answer could be that America’s toehold in the region is now more of a foothold. It is difficult to ignore the fact that the changed Jerusalem votes represent many of the same countries that led the charge to alter a CARICOM Heads’ decision regarding Venezuela, and to align themselves with a US-authored resolution that would have laid the groundwork for intervention.

Yet another answer could simply be that it was almost Christmas, diplomats and foreign policy advisors were heading home for the holidays, and no one saw the sense in antagonizing President Trump on an ultimately symbolic gesture.

What is undeniable, however, is that the US, and other great powers, may be looking anew at the region, to see if the previous reputation of CARICOM as principled and generally united on foreign affairs has been replaced by a more transactional, flexible, influence-able and uncoordinated foreign policy approach. Our perceived “wobbles” on the Israeli-Palestine issue, whether grounded in fact or circumstance, will cause us to be probed and pressured anew in the coming years.

This could be the first Trumpet
Might as well be the last
Many more will have to suffer
Many more will have to die
Don’t ask me why

– Bob Marley, “Natural Mystic”

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This is NOT a Marijuana Blog (Part 2 – Show Me The Money)

America’s Grand Hustle

Picture, if you will, a crop – let’s say tomatoes – being grown on farms and sold to consumers worldwide. Now imagine if one country – let’s say the United States – declared that (1) the importation of tomatoes into the USA was illegal; (2) it would take political and economic measures against any country that grew tomatoes; (3) it would fund the eradication of tomatoes in other countries, and use military hardware to destroy tomatoes or interdict tomato shippers; and (4) any foreigner convicted of growing, selling, eating or otherwise possessing tomatoes would be forever denied entry into the USA.

Imagine also, that while the USA erected this impenetrable wall to foreign tomato imports, the growth and consumption of American-grown tomatoes was actually legal within American borders, and that individual US states were making millions of dollars from the sale of American tomatoes. Picture successive American presidents admitting to eating tomatoes, and talented American scientists working assiduously to improve tomato yield and sweetness, even while American helicopters were spraying and destroying tomato crops in competing markets.

Well, in this hypothetical world of legal and military barriers to the international trade in tomatoes, the World Trade Organisation would be up in arms. It would be a violation of every principle of free trade, and a particularly egregious violation, at that. To actually ban goods as illegal outside of your borders, but make those same goods legal and tradeable within, would be the most nakedly aggressive form of protectionism ever conceived in the history of global trade.

But if you simply change the name of our imaginary crop from tomatoes to marijuana, what emerges are the contours of America’s Grand Ganja Hustle – one which will position the USA as the leading and dominant producer of marijuana for years to come.

How big is marijuana in the United States today? The answer to that question is mind-boggling.

An estimated 102 million Americans – one third of the population – have smoked marijuana at least once in their life. In 2012, California was estimated to have 70,000 – 75,000 acres of marijuana under legal and illicit cultivation. California was also estimated to be home to 75% of America’s domestic ganja cultivation, at the time. That means that in 2012, the USA had roughly 100,000 acres of Ganja being farmed outdoors, to say nothing of the massive indoor marijuana cultivators that produce special blends and carefully controlled ganja strains.

mass-producing-weed

To put that 100,000 acres of American weed in perspective, bear in mind that the entire acreage of Saint Vincent AND all of the Grenadines is roughly 96,000. In other words, if every square inch of SVG was one big marijuana farm, it still wouldn’t match the amount of weed grown in the USA today. Interestingly, of the three “drug crops” – marijuana, opium and coca – marijuana is the only one grown within the USA. That makes it a little more difficult to blame Colombians and Afghans for your drug problem. It also makes legalization of Ganja a little easier and more profitable to American politicians.

In fact, despite the hypocritical hand-wringing about Vincentian marijuana production, the United States is currently growing roughly 250 times more weed on outdoor farms than we are here in SVG. With the rapid expansion of access to legal Ganja in the USA, that disparity is likely to increase dramatically.

Let us also examine the quality of the American product. The chemical in marijuana that makes you high is called THC (short for Tetrahydrocannabinol). In the trippy, hippy days of the 1960s, when America enjoyed its first national flirtation with marijuana, the average THC content of Yankee weed was less than 1%. By the 1990s, American weed had THC of under 5%, making it far inferior to Caribbean offerings. Today, the average THC of American marijuana exceeds 10%, and many specialty strains can reach 25 – 40% THC, inducing highs typically achieved with “hard” drugs like cocaine and heroin. The THC content in Caribbean and South American Ganja – while increasing – is not growing at nearly the same rate as Yankee weed, where chemists, botanists and tinkerers are contributing to a vibrant and uninhibited research community. While Jamaica has done a fair amount of pioneering and important research on the medicinal properties of marijuana, the United States has cornered the scientific market on improving the yield, variety and potency of Ganja through innovative farming and production techniques.

[Medicinal Ganja alert: THC is proven to increase appetite, decrease nausea, decrease pain perception, and decrease pressure inside the eye (useful in glaucoma treatment). Another, less-hyped compound in Ganja is called cannabidiol, or CBD. CBD doesn’t make you high, so it is less sexy to Ganja marketers. However, CBD is purported to contain antimicrobial, antioxidant, neuroprotective and anti-epileptic properties, as well as the ability to slow the metastasizing of certain types of cancers].

In true capitalist fashion, the amount of weed grown in the USA – and its potency – has rapidly increased in response to the overwhelming local demand for the product. Today, American law is catching up with the economics of supply and demand. Twenty of the USA’s 50 states (plus Washington, DC) have now relaxed regulations on marijuana, allowing for either medicinal or recreational use. While the American federal government protects their closed national market by declaring marijuana to be a restricted Schedule I substance, and thus illegal to grow or possess, Americans are walking into legal marijuana dispensaries in 20 states and walking out bags full of high grade Ganja.

In short, America has seen the future, and the future is weed. Everyone else (with the notable exception of Uruguay) is living in the past. Every year that other countries delay in matching the USA’s stance, they will lose competitive ground to American herb, and cede market dominance and millions of dollars to the USA’s weed trade. The 20th Century was the era of “Big Tobacco” as a powerful and profitable industry, with US$500 billion in global annual sales and $35 billion in profit. The United States now is betting that the remainder of the 21st Century will be the era of “Big Spliff.” No other country is as advanced in the mass production, dispensation and branding of marijuana as the United States. Their scientific research on potency, growing techniques, strains and seeds is also leaps and bounds beyond anything that is being conducted anywhere else in the world. By the time the rest of the world gets around to legalizing Ganja, the United States will not be importing weed, but exporting all sorts of exotic and high-potency strains to all corners of the globe. No other country will be able to compete.

A 21st Century Banana?

Any conversation about the legalization/decriminalization/medicinal use of marijuana eventually gets around to speculation about how much money could be made if the laws were relaxed. In the United States, some economists predict that a nationwide legal marijuana trade would immediately produce a US$40 billion market, while generating an additional $15 – $20 billion in taxes (assuming you’d tax Ganja the same way you tax cigarettes). The American state of Colorado is expected to earn a solid US$98 million this year in taxes on their recreational marijuana sales.

In 2012, authorities in the Eastern Caribbean seized 19.19 metric tons of marijuana, 1,526 spliffs, 3,526,305 Ganja plants, and 25,264 cannabis seedlings. By all accounts, the majority of that Eastern Caribbean weed originated in SVG. If you apply the rough rule of thumb that authorities only seize 10-20% of the Ganja grown, you’re talking about 100 – 200 tons of Eastern Caribbean marijuana. If you accept that number, it becomes clear that SVG is exporting almost as many tons of marijuana as bananas. (We exported 180 tons of bananas in 2012).

Needless to say, a ton of weed fetches a bit more than a ton of bananas.

Reported US street prices for Marijuana vary widely and wildly, ranging from $350 – $9,000 per pound. On the other hand, a ton of bananas is currently trading at US$925. This means that a mere three pounds of low-quality weed fetches more money than 2,200lbs of high-quality bananas in the USA. Yes, gentle readers: in the USA, at today’s prices, cheap Ganja is over 800 times more valuable than good bananas.

Those per-pound prices translate to rough street value of US$770,000 of per ton for the lower-quality strains of marijuana. At that lowest (bush weed) value, the Eastern Caribbean’s Ganja exports could have an American street value of US$75–$150 million. Depending on the potency, quality and marketing cachet of VincyGreen, that street value could be exponentially higher. Of course, VincyGreen is not exported to the USA, but rather to CARICOM and the European Union (Martinique and Guadeloupe). But the numbers are instructive, nonetheless.

These figures make even the most moralistic law-maker salivate. At a time when Caribbean prime ministers and American mayors are barely paying their bills, the idea of multimillion dollar economic injections are undeniably tempting. If we accept the assertion of the US State Department that the overwhelming majority of Eastern Caribbean Ganja is Vincy-grown, then total sales of marijuana could’ve financed the construction of the Argyle International Airport – without a single loan, sale of land, or foreign grant – in under three years. Our GDP, currently hovering around EC$2 billion, could suddenly balloon 20% to $2.4 billion – taking our per capita GDP from $19,000 to $24,000, and leapfrogging the average wealth of Dominicans, Grenadians and Saint Lucians.

There’s only one small problem with these gloriously rosy projections about the impact of legalized marijuana on our economy: they’re completely fictitious.

Undoubtedly, the national production, export and taxation of any cash crop will have an economic benefit. But the truth is that we have no mechanism to estimate with any degree of accuracy just how significant that benefit will be. There are very few economic models for transitioning from an illegal crop to a legal crop, and there are a number of fundamental questions that are simply unanswerable at this point in deciding how much money legal marijuana would contribute to SVG’s bottom line.

First, the current high price of marijuana is premised on its illegality, and the risks inherent in brining it from the farm to your eager lips. Were Ganja to become globally – or even regionally – legalized, it’s safe to say that the price would fall precipitously. Let us look, for example, at a snapshot at the average or approximate prices of a few cash crops, in US dollars per metric ton:

chart2

As you can see, one of those prices is not like the others. Marijuana is 230 times more expensive than tobacco, the other “smoked leaf” on the list. That is not a sustainable price disparity, and clearly a product of the challenges involved in growing and distributing an illegal product. (To buttress this point, the price per ton of Cocaine is at least US$7millon per ton. Cocaine, of course is not a cash crop. It’s a processed product).

If the price of legal Ganja falls to tobacco-like levels, then the potential economic benefits fall dramatically. At US$750,000 per ton, the Eastern Caribbean’s US street value of our 2012 Ganja production was US$150 million. However, at $4,300 per ton, that $150 million plummets to a mere $860,000. If the per-ton price of legal Ganja falls below that of tobacco, then we might as well devote our available cash-crop land to cocoa.

Second, we must recognise that SVG has a comparative advantage in the illegal Ganja trade. Those comparative advantages do not translate to a legal export market. What makes SVG such an attractive and dominant force in illegal Ganja cultivation and trade? Let us count the ways: Mountainous interior; difficult access; far from the road network; small, independently-run and non-mechanized farms; primary export via small pirogues and go-fast boats; unregulated growth and non-existent standards; and the list goes on.

Unfortunately those are the same characteristics that would make SVG unattractive and uncompetitive as a potential market leader in legal Ganja production. They are the same factors that have made our global competitiveness in bananas such a tricky proposition. Once you factor in the American head-start in the race to produce and market lucrative strains of marijuana, the Vincentian comparative advantage all but evaporates. Historically, SVG has, at different times, embraced sugar, coffee, cocoa, cotton, arrowroot and bananas as our primary cash crop. Every time, farmers have had to confront the limitations that made those Vincy-grown products uncompetitive on the regional or global market. Could Ganja be different? How? Why?

Without a clear comparative/competitive advantage, what is the long-term future of legal marijuana in SVG? No one can confidently predict at this point, but there is certainly the very real possibility that Ganja will be SVG’s modern-day banana: extremely profitable initially, before tapering off when global competitiveness increases and preferential access decreases.

For weed to follow the economic trajectory of a profitable and sustainable cash crop, then the next 10 to 15 years would be essential to establishing lucrative legal Ganja exports and market share. Marijuana would still be illegal to produce in many countries, so we wouldn’t be competing widely. We could protect the Caribbean Ganja market from competing exports in the same way that the USA has cleverly protected its local market. And we could creatively market the exotic/forbidden nature of marijuana with various forms of branding and Ganja Tourism. (Tours of local, organic, cooperative Ganja farms? VincyGreen™? VolcanoWeed™? Or maybe “MountainTop Ganja™ – Organically grown in the clouds: We grow it high, to take you higher!”)

If SVG and the wider Caribbean are not among the early adopters of legalized/decriminalized Ganja, we will be left behind in exploiting its economic potential. If we belatedly reform our laws after waiting for the rest of the world to move on this issue, then Ganja will not even be our 21st century banana, but instead our 21st century mango: Something that everyone consumes locally, but is rarely exported, and seldom purchased in retail outlets. No one in SVG is getting wealthy selling mangoes.

Who’d Get Rich?

For all of the hundreds of millions of dollars that have likely been made from Vincentian marijuana, it has not made very many people wealthy. With a few notable exceptions, Vincentian Ganja farmers are still eking out a rather modest living from their illicit exploits. The vast difference between the wholesale price of Vincy weed and its retail price in Martinique, Saint Lucia and Barbados reflects the markup charged by shippers, middlemen and resellers, and often doesn’t translate to the man in the hills. Money is lost to law enforcement interdiction, dishonest middlemen, and foreign “bosses” for whom many farmers toil.

Vincentians are definitely making money from Ganja. Just not as much money as you might expect.

Let’s assume Ganja was 100% legal to grow and sell. Who would profit from that growing and selling? Certainly the Government would make some money on taxes and licenses. Surely a few farmers with large landholdings currently lying fallow or dedicated to less profitable crops would get a few dollars. But what about the existing marijuana farmers in the hills? Could they compete with legitimate cultivators? Do they own land that they could farm once they were evicted from the hillside Crown Lands that they illegally occupy? Would large foreign conglomerates enter the Vincentian market to manage the growth, export and profit of weed, as Amajaro has done for cocoa? Once freed of the constraints of illegality, would the regional competition grow and stifle our local Ganja market? After all, we grow less cocoa than Grenada and export fewer bananas than Saint Lucia. Who’s to say we’d retain our market leadership in marijuana?

In addition to taxing and regulating Ganja, the Government would obviously save money on police interdictions, court actions, hospital visits and surveillance costs associated with law enforcement. The State would probably see an increase in Ganja tourists in the same way that the Netherlands does. Maybe our pejorative label as the weed capital of the Eastern Caribbean would be lifted, which, in and of itself, would have value.

But if the primary economic value of legal Ganja would be simply to shift the majority of its earnings from local, rural farmers with limited options to the coffers of the State and already-established farmers, is it worth it? You could argue that, once legal, marijuana would be cultivated more widely, leading to a much larger pie to be divided among more people. But is that true? We have 300 – 400 acres of marijuana under illegal cultivation. We have about the same amount of land currently legally cultivated with bananas, and less than that for arrowroot and other root crops. Who’s to say that Ganja will get any bigger than it already is?

I don’t have the answers to these questions. Hopefully CARICOM will help. The recently-concluded CARICOM meeting in SVG decided to establish a Regional Commission “to address issues identified in relation to marijuana use.” Hopefully those “issues” extend beyond medical, legal and social impact studies; and also make a clear-eyed assessment of the expected economic impact of marijuana at various stages of deregulation. The Regional Commission is expected to report its findings to the CARICOM Heads of State and Government in less than four months. Maybe by then we’ll know whether marijuana is an economic panacea or a pipe (chalice?) dream.

IM000033.JPG

(See Part 1: The Environmental Apocalypse)
(Third and final part coming next week)