Sunday, October 9, 2016

Int'l Affairs: The "Weed Ticket" How Clinton and Trump line up on cannabis

By the time you read this, the 2 US Presidential candidates will have completed the second, and arguably most pivotal, debate of this already remarkable Election Cycle.

To those of my countrymen, and others, who would insist on asking what the US Election has to do with us here in Jamaica - there are many simple answers: More than half the Jamaican diaspora resides in the US, more than half of Jamaica's nearly 3 million visitors bear a U.S. passport, and the US is still our largest export market - including for one commodity in particular that won't show up on the official trade balance computations of economists.

Weed. Marijuana. Cannabis. Ganja. Pot. Chronic. Hallowed. Storied. Plant of many names. Much travelled and, until fairly recently, much maligned in the Government circles of both the US (where it is still classified at the Federal level as a dangerous drug) and Jmaica, where legislation passed last year rremoved the "dangerous drug" classification and gave fiato to a butrgeoning medical marijuana industry spurred in large part by developments in the US.     All this notwithstanding the pioneering work of Dr Calvin Lockhart and the late Dr Manley West in developing Canasol (and asthmasol).

Interestingly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, the question of "Mary Jane" has scarcely come up during this bitter battle for the White House, and the very latest bombshell of Trump's impertinent (but frankly , familiar) comments a decade ago about being able to force himself on women by virtue of his position (then) as a "star" is just the latest in a string of personality and character questions for both candidates that - with the help of the media - have crowded out a lot of the less "soundbite-worthy" issues if you will.

 And make no mistake, dealing with the "new dispensation of marijuana" is a serious issue, on many fronts. On the purely economic side, marijuana is THE proverbial elephant in the US political room. Legal marijuana revenues to private interests topped US$4billion in 2015. Beginning with Colorado, four states plus the US Federal capital (Washington DC) have already made the recreational use of marijuana legal. Altogether, nine more states have marijuana Propositions on their ballots for next month, five specifically addressing recreational use. These include California, the most populous state in the US, as well as neighbouring Nevada - home to arguably the world's recreational hub in Las Vegas.

 Clearly, the greater the spread of legalization, the greater the opportunities for Jamaican marijuana- even though its generally accepted that the plant is grown, and used, in every US state (including Alaska, one of the four to already have legalization). At a time when the Jamaican Government desperately needs a solid income source, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Tourism must undoubtedly be watching this "Green Revolution" in the US with considerable glee.

But the implications go way beyond trade and the Government. In this nascent period of "legal weed" the socio-cultural outcomes of marijuana acceptance are just being seen, much less examined. Will this men an end to "sniffer dogs" greeting Jamaicans deplaning at US airports? (of course. cocaine trafficking remains a serious problem). Will it mean an end to jail time for countless Jamaicans, and other minorities and foreign nationals previously held on possession and "attempting to export" or "dealing in"as worded in the Police Communications press releases? Will non-smokers accommodate the spliffs to any lesser or greater degree than they do the cigarettes and cigars? These are but a few of the questions that will arise as the use of cannabis, whether for medical or recreational purposes, or any combination thereof, broadens.

So, where exactly do the candidates stand on this issue Clinton, in a 2015 interview with Christiane Amanpour, says she prefers to wait and see what outcomes the existing medical marijuana regimes produce before going any further. New York, which she represented as Senator, has medical marijuana, with restrictions.Arkansas, where her political career began with her husband, who, by his own admission, has at least a passing acquaintance with recreational marijuana use, does not.

Trump meanwhile, has taken a familiar cop-out; no doubt taking note of the wave of support, "the Donald" who initially opposed marijuana legalization said, also in 2015, that it should be  a "state-by-state" issue. No doubt, his running mate, Indiana Governor and ultra-conservative Mike Pence will have something to say about that before it comes to his state. Trump surrogate and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, said in i his own failed Presidential bid, that he would repeal marijuana legalizations if he were to get to the White House. Its anyone's guess as to whether that stance contributed to him now being on the sideline.

Its also anyone's guess, for now, as to how the next President will deal with marijuana once they are in the Oval Office. Hopefully someone in tonight's Town Hall-style showdown will get past the infidelities and the lewd comments and pose the weed question to either candidate.

Whether or not, we here should be watching, with great interest.

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