The Marijuana/Ganja Illicit Drug Market of Trinidad and Tobago-2018
The Dynamic Relationship between Demand and Supply
From the decade of the 1990s to 2018 demand continues to grow for ganja in spite of the appreciable slowing of population growth, the consequent aging of the population and the prohibition environment that encapsulates the use of ganja by persons.
Ganja is the premier illicit drug of the illicit drug market outstripping crack cocaine by an appreciable lead as crack cocaine is a sunset drug in the areas of T&T where the crack epidemic swept through in the 1980s primarily in the East-West Corridor. And in other areas of T&T outside of the East-West Corridor generational choice and preference for ganja have resulted in ganja being the drug of choice and rapid growth in these areas also.
From the 1960s to 2018 the discourse of ganja use has evolved through three phases/evolutions which illustrate the evolution of the discourse of ganja use which drives demand and why demand continues to grow in the 21st century despite prohibition. The present phase of the Digital Generation is different from the two preceding phases in that this generation has debunked the discourse of ganja prohibition and now accepts ganja use as a strategic lifestyle choice that contributes to their wellbeing i.e. health, emotional stability, fitness to produce, to compete, to be a success, the human they desire to be in the social order. They view the discourse of prohibition as a lie foisted on them to propagate a lifestyle that will simply not work for their happiness. The discourse of prohibition then has no credibility and no resonance with them.
Members of all race/class groups of the social order of T&T use ganja. Ganja use in T&T is not the preserve of a specific race/class group or a geographic area this is a false picture generated by the manner of policing of ganja possession in T&T.
Demand for ganja is chasing supply in 2018 and the combination of local production and imports from abroad is failing to create a balance between demand and supply. Prohibition, the consequent policing and punishment have singularly failed to reduce demand whilst raising the price of the product, boosting the profits made by transnational and organised crime and criminalising those who are charged and found guilty for simple possession.
It is estimated that demand is presently outstripping supply by 2-3 to 1 i.e. for very spliff, or ounce or one quarter of an ounce of ganja available for sale actual demand is for 2-3 spliffs, 2-3 ounces and one half to three quarters of an ounce which is a conservative estimate. This disequilibrium is as a result of the realities of the supply side one of which is not potent State interdiction. The size of the demand for ganja, the fact that demand is chasing supply and the relative supply shortfall in T&T has now generated the Ganja Wars from 2013 to 2018 which have and continue to significantly escalate the level of violence, especially gun violence, in the social order.
The market disequilibrium is driving up the price point of ganja on the retail market which is now stratifying the market into haves and have nots on the consumption side when combined with the shortfall in supply. The upward movement in the price point in the face of a supply shortfall expressed through shortages especially of plantation grade ganja is escalating the level of violence even more as the have nots are motivated to violently seize product from the haves at all levels of the market from one spliff upwards. For the first time in the history of ganja consumption in T&T since the 1960s ganja users find themselves being stratified as a result of the rising prices and availability where the issue of affordability arises, your ability to pay. The monopoly of transnational and organised crime over the supply side of the market is now stratifying the market whilst restricting supply to maximise profits which intensifies demand and unleashes a wave of violence in the social order that is now a spiral in spite of prohibition and policing.
In T&T today imports dominate the supply side but both local production and imports cannot satisfy demand because of the operational realities of supply not interdiction.
All ganja is simply not the same there are grades with a price range attached. As the potency rises combined with taste, effect and manner of cultivation the price escalates. The base retail grade is the planation grade and then there are the higher priced grades in an upwards price point movement. In T&T whilst the high priced grades are always available the lower end of the market is constantly squeezed of supply to satisfy mass demand. This is because of the dynamics of supply via foreign production from the Caribbean where the international demand for Caribbean high potency organic ganja has resulted in investment in the production of this grade rather than in mass market grades. At USD 4,000 to 6,000 per pound for Caribbean high potency, organic ganja in New York City the squeeze on production for the lower end is potently illustrated which means that this supply squeeze to the T&T ganja market is for the long haul as it is tied in to demand in the North Atlantic.
The retail prices in T&T express this supply side reality where a spliff/joint is now TTD 25 and an ounce/28 grams of imported Kush is TTD 600 with one quarter of an ounce/7 grams of Kush for TTD 150. The price point is now being pushed upwards to change the cost structure of the retail business to maximise profits in the face of a supply shortfall. The supply side is then inviting non-traditional suppliers to enter the market to supply demand for plantation grade ganja which will deepen supply side derived violence especially if the new suppliers are not affiliates of transnational and organised crime thereby depriving these powerful hegemonic groups on the supply side of their share of the proceeds. This reality is showing signs of impact on the market already in 2018 and if it continues it will escalate in the period 2018 to 2020 markedly contributing to growing violence levels.
At a cost of TTD 22 per gram it is now cheaper to sprang/smoke crack in T&T rather than ganja which is clearly an indication of abundant supply of powdered cocaine in spite of visibly declining demand versus the continuing shortage of ganja in spite of escalating demand. What is also apparent is that a spliff will now contain no more than a gram of ganja for which the client will pay more to encourage purchases by the ounce and a quarter of an ounce.
A ganja market in a chronic state of disequilibrium as that of T&T is also motivating the supply of synthetic cannabis as Spice and K2 which is available on the market. These synthesised THC chemical compounds can be sold cheaper than the going rate for herbal ganja enabling the creation of a supply of poor man’s ganja as crack was to powdered cocaine with the grave damaging impacts on human health arising from these compounds.
The export of Caribbean ganja to Europe has established the counter flow of cannabis resin/Hashish especially of Moroccan origin to the West Indies where hashish is now available on premium ganja markets of T&T which has impacted the Ganja Wars of T&T and the Eastern Caribbean.
The Lessons to be Learnt from the Market
Prohibition has failed to dampen the demand for ganja whilst it has boosted the profits of transnational and organised crime.
The discourse of prohibition has been rejected by the most strategic generation in the history of T&T given the slowing of population growth and the consequent aging of the population. The response of prohibition to this challenge is to continue criminalising members of the social order for simple possession whilst much more damaging drugs to human life and the GDP of T&T are perfectly legal.
Male members of the working class and the underclass are overrepresented in the prison population on remand charged with possession of ganja. This indicates the policing of marijuana use and possession as social control not the suppression of crime.
The Ganja Wars and their escalation demand an intervention at the heart of the ganja market that will change the nature of the market where the grip of transnational and organised crime on the supply side will be challenged and loosened. The de-escalation of violence especially gun violence in T&T today demands a strategically formulated intervention informed by the dynamics of the market that will immediately impact and change the supply side of the ganja market within the shortest time frame possible. Prohibition will escalate the violence and further entrench transnational and organised crime’s hegemony over the supply side of the market and the social order of T&T will pay the price in blood.
The supply side of the market and the impact it generates on the social order presently demands an intervention that impacts the supply side for the better in the shortest time frame possible. This excludes legalisation as its implementation is a long and tedious process that offers no immediate relief as we learnt from the case of Uruguay. The impact intervention is then structured as follows: decriminalisation of possession of 28 grams of ganja or less for personal use, the ability of all adults in T&T to cultivate seven ganja plants and use the ganja produced for solely personal use and to expunge the criminal record of all those found guilty of possession of 28 grams of ganja or less and end prosecution of those presently charged for possession of 28 grams or less. Within 3-5 months the supply side will be impacted and changed thereafter forcing transnational and organised crime to change their supply strategy for the local market which when in train will impact the level of violence and subsequently reduce it. This intervention provides the platform for legalisation where the ganja industry can now become a licit industry contributing to the maintenance of the State and contributing to social peace.
©Daurius Figueira 2018