Sunday, June 26, marks the 33rd International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. For the occasion, The Haitian Times looks at the rise of marijuana use among youth in Haiti, specifically in Cap-Haitien.
CAP-HAITIEN — Near Practice of the North High School (CPN) along Letter A, fritay vendors, rice and legim cooks and taxi-moto drivers stand at their stations around the property, all at the service of the students. Behind the school is another area that’s become a fixture, the baz bóz, where marijuana is sold.
Residents refer to this baz bóz, which literally means the “weed station” in English, as Lakou New York, or New York Yard. Here, a few dealers usually sit on a tire or chair, or sometimes they stand. With serious looks on their faces and often yellowish eyes, they look menacing and have shooed away people who don’t seem to be buying.
After all, purchasing marijuana at a baz bóz entails knowing the right lingo. Around the high schools, students might approach the dealers in codes, referring to marijuana as bon an, or the good good, pèsi or parsley, fèy or leaves, and etèn jem or shut my eyes. Baz bóz areas also often have shoes hanging across electrical wires or a drawing of the marijuana plants on a wall as signals to potential buyers.
Oxon Rémy, a senior at CPN, is among those who stay away from baz bóz and dealers. He knows of some youngsters who smoke and, to him, they just need help.
“We have to be there for them,” Rémy, 18, said. “If they had someone by their side, helping them reduce the stress they go through, they would stay away from weed.”
Gateway to a riskier future
Remy’s concern reflects a common view that marijuana, unregulated and growing in usage, is endangering the lives of Haiti’s youth, particularly teenagers. Smoking weed has increased significantly, they said, though no organization or agency seems to have available statistics on teen use. Critics said the increased use of marijuana is going unchecked because the Haitian government has yet to do anything productive to address it. Residents say even drug addiction recovery organizations are rare.
Some educators, watching more and more teenagers partake in smoking, with some seemingly becoming addicted, say they fear for Haiti’s future. Deepening their worry are incidents such as one in March 2021, when scores of students were arrested for smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol in a private residence in Cap-Haitien, according to Safe News Haiti.
“It’s a phenomenon that is growing in our generation,” said Adlin Pierre, a math and physics teacher in Cap-Haitien. “We need to be careful. If we let the kids do whatever they want to do with drugs in Haiti, we will be a country that just won’t exist anymore.”
This year, the Association for the Prevention of Alcoholism and other Chemical Addictions (APAAC) held lectures June 21 in Port-au-Prince on the drug problem ahead of International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. Under the theme “Talking About Drug Abuse Saves Lives,” APAAC staff spoke about different types of drugs, their effects on the human body, and how to prevent people from becoming addicted.
Peterson Joseph, an APAAC prevention agent, said drug use can cause cancer, turns people violent, and pushes them into illegal activities to feed their addiction.
“Their entire lives revolve around their drug,” Joseph said. “The man might sell his phone for a little bit of money, the young woman might prostitute herself. It’s ending their lives.”
APAAC drug prevention agents held lectures on the dangers of substance abuse to about 45,500 students from 35 schools in Port-au-Prince during the 2021-22 academic year. APAAC also helps Port-au-Prince residents fight against alcohol and drug addictions. But they only operate in Port-au-Prince, Joseph said.
“If there is a state in this country we need them to take care of this,” Pierre said. “The state failed in their mission.”
In Cap-Haitien, many residents urge the state to step in and help. Others, especially those around Lakou New York, downplay the dangers of smoking marijuana.
Recently, Jonel “Tchino” Domeson, a 40-year-old man with yellow dreadlocks, stood in a tiny street in Lakou New York to make his point.
“Some people say it’s destroying lives but life, here’s how life is,” said Domeson, with a smile on his face. “Everything you do has its downsides. People can die from drinking water. While eating, a bone can go through the wrong pipe and someone can die.”
Exploring the pull of marijuana
Why marijuana use started spreading rapidly in Haiti is unknown, but seeing rappers and their own friends use it play a role, Joseph said. Being stressed, especially due to financial struggles, is another reason some seek an escape in marijuana.
“Kids are more impressionable,” Joseph said. “Sometimes they start consuming because a group of friends pressured them, especially when their parents aren’t strict.”
For Amilcar Jean-Pierre, 30, the stress that prompted him to smoke weed was getting a girl pregnant at 16, back in 2006.
Back then, an adult used to send Jean-Pierre to Street Zero to buy the marijuana. One day, he decided to buy a bag for himself too for 15 gourdes, about 13 cents.
Jean-Pierre smoked for the first time by the ocean in La Fosette, a neighborhood in the Northern Department. He did not think about having a child on the way, so he made it a daily habit.
Later, when Jean-Pierre moved to Port-au-Prince for college, he smoked less due to financial difficulties and to safeguard the professional career he was pursuing. Jean-Pierre, now a history teacher and drummer, smokes at least three times a week, usually before writing, drawing or Vodou ceremonies.
“I smoke when I want now, I mastered it,” Jean-Pierre said. “But I started too early. Kids have to wait until they get mature to see if they can make a decision to do it, so it doesn’t destroy them. I’m fighting so my kid doesn’t fall into what I fell into.”
Photographer Oldjy François contributed to this report.