The islands of Trinidad and Tobago lie close to the Venezuelan Coast, at the north-eastern end of South America. This country has grown to become one of the most industrialised states of the Caribbean region. Throughout its history, this state—known as an excellent location for foreign investors—has developed a singular and distinctive cultural environment based on a society that embraces religious and ethnic diversity. Trinidad and Tobago shows historic features that makes itself stand out from all other Caribbean countries. As was the case with Haiti, most immigrants were black and came from Africa under cultural and religious conditions that were quite dissimilar to those imposed in other parts of the Americas during the colonisation era.
Cannabis—The Tree of Life
Islanders of African and Rastafari descent are vastly affected by the current prohibition on marijuana. In the case of the Caribbean Rastafarian community, cannabis represents “the tree of life” mentioned in the Bible and consumption is a part of a Rasta meditation ritual, in which cannabis aids believers to get into a spiritual state.
Marijuana possession is forbidden in Trinidad and Tobago. According with the country’s current legislation, possessing marijuana is an offence punishable with a USD 25,000 fine or by serving a prison term of five years—and these may double depending on the amount of marijuana found and also whether the accused is a prior offender. In fact, a person may be charged with possession of marijuana even if this substance is found on a private environment such as inside a person’s house or car.
A New Chapter for Cannabis in the Island
Still, a new hope arises for Rastafarian communities, Trinidadians and Tobagonians. In 2018, Prime Minister Keith Rowley announced that the Trinidadian and Tobagonian government had plans to end marijuana prohibition as from June 2019, but as discussions extended, islanders are now asking what this bill really means and when it could be enacted.
If such legislation came into force, Trinidad and Tobago would join other Caribbean countries which decriminalised cannabis in an effort to reduce drug trafficking, tackle judicial overload, achieve religious harmony, and aid to boost the local economy.
Although this may seem to be in its infancy, the country’s change in the way it addresses cannabis legislation represents remarkable progress: until 2018, no concrete proposal could see the light of day. Amending marijuana legislation was simply not a prime concern. However, the Trinidadian and Tobagonian cabinet has been apparently influenced by recent changes introduced by some states of the region—such as Jamaica and Antigua and Barbuda—and also by the sustained efforts of the Rastafarian and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).