By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
February 12, 2019
“The civilization of the fathers was hinged on the preservation of that which already existed, not on the discovery of new things.”
—Chigozie Obioma, An Orchestra of Minorities
Brian Harry is a Trini who was educated at Queen’s Royal College. He has lost several friends because of his outspokenness. Some years ago he told me that a major difference between a developed and a developing society is one of attitude. Citizens of a developed society think of what they can do; citizens of developing societies always think about what they can’t do.
This distinction came to mind on January 29 as I read the Trinidad Express and the New York Times articles of how two jurists approached matters of public policy. The cases involved the use of marijuana and each jurist’s response to it. I appreciate that we are talking about two different systems of jurisprudence, but their responses to a similar problem was interesting.
Headlined, “Ganja Smoker Sentenced to 80 Hours Community Service,” Magistrate Alicia Chankar sentenced Makaan Grant to 80 hours of community service when he pleaded guilty for the possession of marijuana. Policeman Cleyon Seedan told the magistrate that Sergeant Dinoo was on duty when he saw the defendant “walking across the field smoking a cigarette of unusual length. Dinoo approached Grant who looked in his direction removed the cigarette from his mouth and placed it in his right hand.
“Dinoo asked that he open his hand and found the cigarette which contained marijuana…. It weighed 0.6 grams.”
“Chanker said discussions are being held on marijuana, and it is a ‘hot topic.'” She chastised Grant: “Because it is current discussion, you are under the view that a ‘bligh’ is necessary?”
Grant: “The culture I come from, we grew up seeing everybody doing it…we accustomed. We smoke to humble ourselves, to relax our minds, to cool ourselves down.”
Chankar told Grant that because he grew up in an environment where something is acceptable, “[it] does not mean it is ordained or condoned by legal persons.”
She said that while “the world is evolving and in certain countries marijuana use is acceptable, it is not the case in Trinidad and Tobago…. Until laws have been passed, it is against the law.”
Grant had other views. He told reporters “that marijuana is a herb with different meanings and uses, including ‘sacramental and medicinal rights.'”
On the same day that the Express carried its story, the New York Times offered another headline: “Baltimore to Stop Marijuana Possession Cases.” The story notes that while marijuana is officially against the law in Maryland, Marilyn Mosby, the state attorney for Baltimore, said “she would stop prosecuting marijuana possession cases within the city limits, regardless of the quantity, and seek to vacate 5,000 convictions.”
Mosby noted that “declining to prosecute marijuana possession has everything to do with making the city safer.”
She reasoned: “If you ask that mom whose son was killed where she would rather us spend our time and attention-—on solving that murder or prosecuting marijuana laws-it’s a no-brainer….I don’t think there is even a choice there.”
Baltimore has “the nation’s highest murder rate among big cities and one of the most broken relationships between its police and its citizenry.”
Proportionately, more blacks are arrested for marijuana possession than any other group in that city.
Mosby said that with a poor record of solving crime-only one in four homicides was solved last year-law enforcement needs to foster more good will. “How are we going to expect folks to want to cooperate with us,” she said, “when you’re stopping, you’re frisking, you’re arresting folks for marijuana possession?”
Garry Tuggle, Baltimore’s police commissioner, disagreed with Mosby. He said that arrests will continue “unless and until the state legislature changes the applicable laws.” Baltimore’s mayor, Catherine Pugh, supported Tuggle’s position.
Mosby has been called a divisive figure in Baltimore politics. She made headlines in 2015 “when she promised to prosecute six police officers in the death of Freddie Gray, who sustained fatal injuries while in police custody. Her announcement calmed the city.”
I wish I could have told Magistrate Chankar that marijuana possession only became illegal in Trinidad when the British wanted the populace to use rum and other such intoxicants to raise revenues. Prior to that, Indo-Trinidadians used “the herb” to meditate and to relax their minds. Chankar, I presume, must follow the law, but when does common sense trump unjust laws?
The Baltimore prosecutor refuses to prosecute marijuana users even though the commissioner and the mayor differ with her approach. Mosby’s approach is needed urgently in T&T. We may want to apply this creativity to many of the problems that face us.
In his wondrously enigmatic novel An Orchestra of Minorities, Chigozie Obioma argues that it is sometimes necessary to enter the unknown bravely: “For to not enter is to cease to exist, and for a man to not enter through the door of tomorrow is death.”
Let us enter the door of tomorrow bravely. We should bring that perspective to everything that we do. Thinking creativity and “taking a risk,” as Lloyd Best advised, may be the necessary posture at this juncture of our social development.
While we are at it, it might be helpful to read An Orchestra of Minorities, a fascinating novel that is set within the Igbo worldview.
8 thoughts on “The Door of Tomorrow”
Little late Professor.. But better late than never.
From The Guardian:
Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi on Wednesday said more than half of the people in remand and convicted for marijuana offences over the past six years were of African descent.
Between 2014 and 2019, some 4,694 male inmates were remanded at the Maximum Security Prison Al-Rawi said.
Of that figure 2,425 were of African descent, he said.
The difference comprised of 1,301 described as mixed, 918 of East Indian descent, 49 Hispanics and one person of Asian descent.
For the same six year period 1,852 males convicted for marijuana related offences were housed at MSP, Al-Rawi said.
Of that figure again more than half, 1,033, were of African descent.
The difference comprised of 429 described as mixed, 378 of East Indian descent and 12 Hispanics.
Young males of African descent aged between 18 to 35 were the main subset in both the remand and convicted figures.
Al-Rawi admitted that according to the statistics young males of African descent are most at risk with marijuana laws.
The discussion should be on the economics of Marijuana and making sure that Africans do not get forced out of this (what they say) Trillion dollar ‘Green Rush’..
Africans are the ones that have paid the price under their ‘Reefer laws’, both in T&T and the USA..
*In Maryland, No Licenses for Black Businesses
Earlier this month, the Natalie M. LaPrade Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission awarded stage-one license preapprovals to 15 growers and 15 processors. None of the companies on tap for what are likely to be lucrative growing licenses is led by African Americans.*
RamK: Thanks for the update. I guess that the stark difference in behavior sparked my interest.
Thanks for keeping me in check.
Follow Canada’s example. First decriminalize marijuana and stop pursuing and arresting young men smoking a joint or with possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use.
This would reduce the court’s time considerably. Release those in prison on minor possession charges. Take these young men out of the prison environment, thereby reducing the chances of making future criminals.
Educate adolescents on the dangers of marijuana and alcohol to the developing brain and the human body. Actually alcohol is doing more damage to our society in multiple ways.
After an adjustment period of decriminalization, legalization, production, sales distribution and export within specific laws should be introduced. Create a thriving industry and collect massive taxes.
Yes, topics of this caliber is long overdue Dr Cujoe . At this juncture, Trinidad need to have a conscious discourse on WEED , and the reason society have destroyed so many lives because of its use , as you rightly said , it is all nestled in Colonialism. A Caribbean Magistrate once told me that their hands are tied , any change in their decision making , must come from the US state Department , We all know that Trinidad is a US satellite State , with Kamla PB in power Trinidad would have been part of the invading forces in Venezuela . One of my cherished publications is your book Dr Cujoe , ” Basdeo Panday and the politics of race” magistrate Chankar and others like her have followed the Doctrine of keeping the African in his/her place via Economics and Incarceration . Legal corruption is the GREATEST of all CRIMES , some say that Trinidad is right up there , don’t be mis-led .
Let’s not turn this into a racial issue. Non-Indian magistrates are just as tough on marijuana use. You could claim that it is a class or economic issue.
Many young Africans are sentenced unfairly or are waiting in jail for years for a hearing because they lack the resources to hire legal representation.
Yes, legal corruption is a problem. Just look at the number of T&T high court decisions which are overturned by the Privy Council.Interestingly, in direct contradiction to your insinuation, they mostly involve cases of discrimination against Indians. Do you wonder why the UNC so strongly support the Privy Council vs the Caribbean court.
Both alcohol and marijuana have medicinal values and that’s proven. On the recreational side both have their social benefits but in this instance one is acceptable i.e. potable alcohol because of the economic benefits (customs and excise duties) it brings to the coffers of government. As expected the layman whether he’s from Jamaica, Afghanistan wherever who controlled the black market of marijuana dealings are now displaced because the economic benefits are now realised. The USDA flexes it’s whip mercilessly based on the laws the USDA enforces as legislated by the US congress and Senate. So Now you have a former US legislator John Baynor who has now become a major player in cannabis trading and potential economic values. The black man cannot control the pie as it is now legally taken away just as how his brothers are languishing in jails because of possession of the ‘drug’.
“Citizens of a developed society think of what they can do; citizens of developing societies always think about what they can’t do.”……Professor C.
No truer words were spoken. As a young man growing up in Trinidad (in my time), the one constant that I found always followed me was the constant reminder when I tried to accomplish something new was “you cant do that” or “only them could do that”. Of course this is during the era when we were ruled by Britain. As aspiring youths in our country where the privileges you enjoyed were based on colonial status and complexion, avenues of possible development were few and specific for blqck men. As a young teenager, I was employed at Shell Trinidad Limited as an “office boy”. The company had established rules for social clubs for all employees. The senior staff consisted almost exclusively for expatriates (whites only). Local whites holding that title were also included. Local coloureds were not part of this social structure. Junior staff officers club consisted mostly of managers who were local whites, educated blacks and Indians. Then there was the employees club for all employees regardless of rank. This was where you find members of the cricket club, football club, all-fours and other sporting activities. That structure reflected societal norms at that time. It meant that the off-springs of people, based on these classifications had privileges based on the amenities they enjoy because of their status. Those at the lower levels of employment had to ‘manufacture’ means to elevate the future of their children in order to enjoy the amenities the higher classes enjoyed.
This structure of social engineering inevitably relegated us to lower expectations for ourselves and our children. The colonial system which we inherited from the British remain tacitly employed in our daily lives today. The labels of “Laventille” or “Beetham” or “Maloney” are tacit reminders that they are the product of people who lacked vision and never enjoyed a compass that would take them out of poverty and aimlessness. No amount of “government programme” can train their minds to alter the dooms that are foreshadowed for their futures.
The agencies that can mould the “can do” spirit in the young are all crippled by lack of respect or lack of hold in the moral and ethical grounds. It used to be the church, boy scouts, girl scouts, the Salvation Army, St John’s Ambulance Brigade, Cadet Corps, YMCA, YWCA, cricket clubs, football clubs and other social organizations were avenues that instilled pride and confidence in building better human beings. These institutions no longer possess the characteristics to attract and train young enquiring minds. So we are left with an army of young truants who can offer almost nothing positive to society, only because they “see” the signs telling them what they “cant do” at every turn they make in life.
One of the first places where these children absorb the idea that they “can’t do” is in school.
When are the stakeholders in T&T going to realize that their archaic system of education is responsible in large measure for the failures, delinquency and criminality of a substantial percentage of our youth?
None of Griffith’s macho posturing will have any long term benefits unless at the source,failing schools.
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