Green Fingers – Has decreasing farm industry increased the Cannabis trade in the Caribbean?

A while ago I interviewed a couple of dealers about the difference between the drug trade in the north, dealing in the south, and about the scene in good old Brizzle town. Although the towns varied, the reasoning behind dealers entering their particular trade was similar – as was their attitude toward dealing as not differing much from any legal business transaction. When I got the opportunity to interview a dealer in the Caribbean who briefly worked in New York but had to return for ‘business reasons’ I was intrigued. Turns out, we may be miles apart, but people’s motivations are similar the world over.

Bit of background – I met Jason in Trinidad. He lives with his girlfriend, (who he met in Queens, New York) and their two year old son. Jason grew up in Rio Claro, on the less wealthy agricultural side of the island. The divide between rich and poor in Trinidad is huge, and obvious. The housing ranges very visibly from traditional shanty accommodation on one side to Americanised gated communities on the other.

Jason moved to New York after getting into trouble with the Trinidad for growing and selling cannabis, and was told to either leave the country or face charges. He returned after getting into an altercation with dealers in Queens which ended in hospitalisation after a knife fight. Due to his girlfriend falling pregnant, he hoped to start a new life in Trinidad, free from the drug trade.

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Sign in a typical trini rum shop – one of the bars in Rio Claro

This is what Jason told me about his experiences and motivations for getting in to the trade to begin with, and why he remains in the trade now despite the trouble it has caused him.

“It first occurred to me that I could make a bit of cash selling [cannabis] because I was around it with my family all the time. They didn’t sell, but they smoked a lot, and bought from friends who came round to chill lout, have a beer and a smoke. It always seemed pretty normal and relaxed to me. The main trade by us was growing sugar cane but that all went, so it was just growing peppers and avocadoes and whatever you had space for in the end. It’s really easy to grow good stuff here, and when I planted a couple of seeds from some weed my parents bought it was really easy to get a good plant”.

“We never had any money, but we did have a lot of space, so it seemed kind of stupid scraping by trying to make money growing peppers to sell, which everyone can grow themselves in their gardens anyway. You can make so much more money growing weed in the same space. From one seed you can grow about a quarter of Mary Jane, and it’s so easy to get hold of, so it just made sense”.

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Weed grown from a couple of seeds – rather than grinding weed, Trinis’ smoke it pure, wrapped in a rizla and added to the top of a straight cigarette.

“Most of the police here smoke too, and the government and police make a lot of money off the sale of weed and coke. As long as you aren’t causing them trouble, they pretty much stay out of your way. I don’t really see what I’m doing as wrong. I’m not hurting anyone. I have a field out in the middle of nowhere, and people want to buy what I’m selling. I feel like it’s a pretty honest job. There are so few jobs available over here unless you can afford and education. It’s either selling stuff you grow at market, or trimming weeds or filling pot holes in the roads. I do that too in the mornings, before it gets too hot and so do most of my friends, but the money is bad and you can only do it when you’re young really. It’s really manual tiring work”.

“I have family now and I want them to have a nice home and look after them. I bought the house with the money I made selling and I couldn’t ever have bought it otherwise. Most people in their twenties are still living with their parents, the girls get married young so they get a house. If you are a man you need to have your own home or they won’t be interested. That’s what got me in trouble over here. One side of the island is still really poor, and no one wants to look worse than anyone. I couldn’t get a house over on the San Fernando side – that’s where all the educated people with the oil money go (oil has replaced growing sugar cane as the islands main export, and many of the men now work out at sea on the rigs). I wouldn’t fit in. But the guy with the pepper field next to mine got jealous that I was making money”.

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A traditional Trinidad market selling a variety of goods grown locally on the island

“People here hate seeing other people do well as most of the island is so poor. They don’t think it’s fair, and it’s not. It’s really hard for people here to get out of their situation because there’s so little else to do unless you leave the country. It’s getting better, and more people are getting educated now, but the island is small, and the inequality is so easy to see every day. It makes people angry and jealous”.

So for the moment, Jason is back in the drug scene but he is he is keeping that fact from his family. He hopes to find better work, and would like his son to get a better education than he did and stay living on the island.

The issue in this case is the cost of education and the limited number of jobs available. The culture on the island is changing fast and traditional Trini ways of life are being rapidly replaced by American values. With the biggest of those values being capitalist and material ideals – which are incredibly at odds with the islands traditional Hindu values – the wealth divide is an uneasy one. Combine that with a very public knowledge of a corrupt policing system, and it seem for now at least that illegal trades will take a lot to reform. There is currently government debate about legalising sale of the drug, and whether this will limit the problems that arise from widespread illegal trade.

<p><a href=”https://plus.google.com/112871526562974380630″ rel=”author”>Natalie</a></p>

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