Cudjoe: Misconceptions about cannabis, rastas

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

In this August 2021 file photo, Minister of Sport and Community Development Shamfa Cudjoe speaks at a grant distribution ceremony on Wednesday at Bon Accord, Tobago. –

SPORT and Community Development Minister Shamfa Cudjoe lamented the misconceptions that some people have about cannabis and Rastafarians. But her lament was balanced with joy that Government and the Opposition seemed to be on the same page when it came towards decriminalising cannabis or marijuana in TT.

Cudjoe expressed these views in her contribution to the debate on a motion to approve a joint select committee report on the Cannabis Control Bill 2020.

The bill’s objectives include the regulatory control of the handling of cannabis for certain purposes and the establishment of a TT Cannabis Licensing Authority.

Section 29 of the bill proposes that the authority can issue licences for the medicinal, therapeutic or scientific use of cannabis. Under Section 30, people 18 years or older who are citizens or permanent residents of TT or a Caricom state, a company, a firm or a co-operative society can apply for licences.

People convicted of indictable offences under the Dangerous Drugs Act or Proceeds of Crime Act are ineligible for a licence.

After observing this was a rare occasion that Government and Opposition agree on an issue, Cudjoe recalled misconceptions in the 1980s and 1990s that Rastafarians always had cannabis in their possession.

“Children going to school were provoked by friends. Teachers would have their views and spread their stories about rasta children or children coming out of rasta homes. Police would run up in your house every now and then, looking for weed.”

Cudjoe identified with these situations on a personal level. “My father was a Rasta. I have to tell you. I didn’t see. I didn’t know what weed looked like until I got to college.”

She said, “I spent 22 years of my life in a Rasta house and didn’t know what weed looked like.” Cudjoe that if her father smoked cannabis when she was a child, she would not have known about it.

“I never saw it. I never smelt it on him. He was a respected man. An upstanding man.”

But she added, “The things we had to face in school and in society, is trauma, was traumatic.”

Now 40, Cudjoe was happy to witness moves to decriminalise cannabis in TT and in the Caribbean. “It’s a breath of fresh air.”

As a child, Cudjoe was confused about why their was an all out war on cannabis but not on alcoholism. “We see what alcoholism is doing to our communities.”

She wondered why there is “no hard on war on tobacco.” Similarly, Cudjoe told MPs the negative impacts that tobacco has on people are well documented.

Based on her personal research, Cudjoe opined this bias towards cannabis as opposed to alcohol and tobacco is rooted more “on economics rather than science.”

She was glad that the legislation spoke about cannabis and not marijuana. Cudjoe recalled the Caribbean has a long history in relation to cannabis. “How did we get from printing bibles on cannabis paper and making clothing from cannabis, way back when.”