The role of youth in the Caribbean drug trade

This report analyses young people's involvement in the drug trade in St. Lucia and on the adjacent islands. The study focuses on the interaction between the cannabis and cocaine markets, and the role of youth in the drug trade. St. Lucia is a member of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM), an area plagued by high crime rates and youth gang violence. Due to its proximity to South American cocaine producing countries and its trading links with Europe and North America its involvement in the drug trade is very strong. For example, the Caribbean accounts for “an estimated 25-30% of the cocaine reaching Europe”. The drug trade is lucrative and attractive to the region’s young people deprived of economic and job opportunities. The booming drug trade has gone hand in hand with a rise in homicide and organised crime.

Besides the cocaine trade, St. Lucia partakes in the growing and selling of cannabis. The island’s strict cannabis laws have created tension and problems among the young male population. The consequences for using cannabis are severe and young adults are often arrested and expelled from school for using or possessing it. The majority of young men who are out of work or in jail are there due to the use of cannabis. “The 2012 socio economic situation is grim: high unemployment rates among young males have resulted in large groups of idle young men with limited skills. Compounding the unemployment challenge is the zero tolerance attitudes of the police towards public cannabis use and the high percentage of cannabis users among unemployed young men,” said author Marcus Day, Director of the Caribbean Drug & Alcohol Research Institute.

In addition to shedding light on the drug trade in St. Lucia, the study analyses the illicit drug trade between St. Lucia and the surrounding islands. There has been trade between St. Lucia and the adjacent island of Martinique for centuries, even before Europeans arrived in the area. The smuggling of both illegal and legal goods is common between the two islands. This is an important relationship in the drug trade and both islands are heavily involved in the large and small trafficking of drugs.

Cannabis trafficking is a rather small home-grown operation while cocaine trafficking is a large scale operation. There is not much interaction between the two products despite their illicit nature. The cocaine trade is not only larger and more complex, but also considered much more violent and dangerous. The study shows that young people have little to no involvement in the cocaine trafficking. When it comes to drug trafficking young people are for the most part only involved in the selling of cannabis.


Youth, gangs and violence and their contribution to crime in Saint Lucia