I have been disturbed, along with other Guyanese, to see our President lending his prestige to a company that produces some of the alcohol that is daily damaging lives in so many ways. It is upsetting to see a person who represents our hope for a decent future endorsing, with evident enthusiasm, commercial exploitation of human weakness. The excise and other revenues from alcoholic beverages do not match the cost to the economy of damage to person and property caused by drunkenness. There are other ways to profit from alcohol production, for example as motor fuel and industrial solvent.
The harm to society that comes from rum-drinking needs to be tackled urgently.
One way might be by raising excise taxes so high that alcoholism becomes a disease of the rich, and money can be available for treatment of addiction cases. There are other citizens who can contribute many more ideas to tackle the poison that alcohol represents to our society. My concern today is to answer those who say that the alcohol industry is so important that even our President must be used as a marketing tool.
Guyana badly needs, for the immediate future, a more profitable way to exploit its large cultivable land mass within the equatorial belt. The economics of sugar have changed with the times; are we so resistant to new ideas that we cannot consider growing canes for the production of ethanol directly rather than as a byproduct of sugar? A large ethanol industry would use a fraction of the land now under cane. The land freed up can be used for the cultivation of, for instance, industrial hemp, more profitable per acre than sugar for the same investment in manpower and machinery.
Besides hemp for paper, fabrics and building materials, other varieties of the cannabis family, equally suitable for cultivation on Guyana’s abundant lands close to the equator, are among the richest of high-value crops in the world. Medicinal products processed from some varieties of cannabis are currently in over-demand at prices unheard of in conventional agriculture.
Those varieties are not used for recreational smoking because they do not have a euphoric effect. They are used, at high prices, against cancer, the side-effects of chemotherapy, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s and many other diseases, in formal medical practice, as legally as any other prescription drug.
The typical Guyana reaction to these ideas is, “Hemp? Cannabis? Forget it, no way it’s ever going to be legal.” Can it be true that our Government is so closed-minded that Guyana cannot move with the times? Cannabis was over-criminalized in Guyana because in the early 1980s the US Government, as part of their War on Drugs, put pressure on our then leaders to change laws and sentencing guidelines. Now in half the States of the Union marijuana is legalized, and Federal regulation has been relaxing for years.
Modern opinion is that much of the harm done by cannabis came about precisely because its possession and use was subject to harsh penalties, but alcohol still does more harm to the society. But Guyana remains draconian against all forms of cannabis, and still promotes the rum business.
Editor, I write these lines on April 20, which as International Stoners Day commemorates traditional use of cannabis as a mood-enhancing drug in many parts of the world. But I take no position on that, on either moral or economic grounds. My point is that outmoded and narrow-minded high policy is quite needlessly standing between Guyana and a new agricultural horizon, based on products quite outside the “legalize-it” controversy. And the remoteness of hope of policy change in this area is, in my opinion, symptomatic of a generation of leaders too hide-bound, inflexible and authoritarian to even understand their responsibility for the future of the nation.