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PM’s stand bad for T&T

Published: 
Sunday, July 15, 2018
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In this September 2015 photograph, WPC Danielle Ashe, who is attached to the St Joseph Police Station, sorts the marijuana trees that were seized from the apartment of a Chemistry student attending the University of the West Indies in St Augustine. The value of the drugs was estimated at $500,000.

The conversation surrounding the decriminalisation and possible legalisation of marijuana has been taking place around the globe. But what does this mean for Trinidad and Tobago? The Sunday Guardian continues to look at the issue in part three on the topic today.

While the majority of Caricom member states held national consultations in their respective countries to give citizens a chance to have their voices heard on the issue of possible reform of laws dealing with marijuana, Trinidad and Tobago’s Government denied a request to have such a consultation here. Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s statement on the issue last week also seemed to signal there is no way forward on it here.

This according to the report by the regional body established to look at the possible reform of legal regimes regulating marijuana in Caricom countries.

In March 2014 at the 25th Inter-Sessional Meeting of Caricom Heads of Government in St Vincent and the Grenadines, the Regional Commission on Marijuana was established to interrogate the issue of possible reform to the legal regimes regulating marijuana in Caricom countries.

The commission, chaired by Dean of the University of the West Indies’ St Augustine Law Faculty, Professor Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, submitted its report to the Caricom heads in Jamaica last Friday.

The 132-page report was titled “Waiting to exhale. Safeguarding our future through responsible socio-legal policy on marijuana.”

In the scope of its work, the commission was authorised and mandated to “engage in an extensive consultation process with members of the community and other key stakeholders at the national level to elicit the population’s view about current usage and re-classification.”

“To fulfil its mandate, the commission employed mixed methods to gather data. Primary data were obtained from the national consultations, comprising national public meetings and focus group discussions to obtain in-depth information. National consultations were convened in member states working in collaboration with the various Ministries of Foreign Affairs. Secondary data was obtained from several sources,” the report stated.

“The commission made itself available to every Member State of Caricom and accommodated all requests with respect to scheduling, so as to ensure that Caribbean peoples had the opportunity to voice their opinions on this issue of deep social significance to the region. Consequently, national consultations were conducted in nine countries: St Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Guyana, Suriname, Montserrat, St Kitts & Nevis, Belize and the Bahamas.”

Currently Caricom has 15 full members.

And while natural disaster and general elections prevented Dominica and Grenada respectively from holding consultations and St Lucia did not respond to the request for a consultation, Trinidad and Tobago simply said a national consultation on the issue could not be accommodated. Because Jamaica has already amended its marijuana laws, the commission said a consultation was not prioritised there.

“The consultations were structured in two parts, comprising focus group discussions of targeted stakeholders, in addition to public town hall meetings. The national public meetings allowed for attendees to articulate their concerns on the issue of decriminalisation of marijuana.

While national surveys would have provided information general to the population, given the time and budgetary constraints for conducting national surveys, public town hall meetings allowed for open discussion and clarification of issues where such necessity arose,” the report stated.

Addressing the post-Cabinet press briefing last Thursday, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said the issue of decriminalising marijuana was not a priority for his administration.

Rowley said for the Government the jury is still out on the science of the issue and his administration would be guided as it evolves.

“But at the moment we’re not running any advocacy for decriminalising marijuana or incorporating it into the economic space because we have some other priorities and we’re also not convinced of the benefits that some people are asking us to grasp,” Rowley said.

While the Government did not allow for national consultations here, the commission did receive a petition from Caribbean Collective for Justice (CCJ) head Nazma Muller with 9,500 signatures from Trinidad and Tobago calling for marijuana to be legalised.

“The majority of Caribbean peoples believe that the cannabis/marijuana laws are ineffective, discriminatory, deeply unjust, unfit for purpose, violate rights and lack legitimacy. They also believe that prohibition is preventing the region from taking advantage of the economic opportunities in the cannabis industry and medical research and prohibiting access to medicine that can heal them more effectively and cheaply than traditional pharmaceuticals,” the committee report stated.

“The groundswell of support and enthusiasm for change is a significant indicator to Caricom governments on the question of law reform. Notwithstanding, the commission believes that it is a necessary, but not sufficient condition to invoke change. It therefore interrogated and analysed the most up to date scientific, medical, legal and social data to substantiate these views. It found that the evidence clearly supports this public opinion and demonstrates that the existing prohibitionist regime induces more harm than any possible adverse consequences of cannabis/ marijuana itself.”

The report added: “It seems that Caribbean peoples have their hand on the pulse. Indeed, in many respects the ‘horse has already bolted,’ since Caribbean nationals are already accessing marijuana as “medical refugees” from the several countries, including allies that have already decriminalised, or legalised the plant. The now relatively few voices against change to the law, premise their arguments, not on immorality, or wrongdoing, but chiefly on concern about perceived adverse impacts on mental health, the youth, increased use and the supposed incapacity of institutional resources.

“These are legitimate concerns which the commission carefully assessed. Some of these fears have been assuaged through the modern scientific research that was harnessed. Others remain, but the commission is satisfied that they can be appropriately addressed through a responsible framework for law reform as is advocated in this report.”

The commission said it believes the end goal for Caricom “should be the dismantling of prohibition in its totality, to be replaced by a strictly regulated framework akin to that for alcohol and tobacco, which are harmful substances that are not criminalised”.

However, it acknowledged law reform can take many forms and should conform to national realities.

“This is particularly because the commission is of the view that law reform should not adopt a laissez-faire, liberalised approach, but proceed within a responsible, controlled regime that will depend on focused and adequate institutional resources to achieve the desirable objectives,” the report stated.

“The commission is unanimous in its view that the current classification for cannabis/marijuana as a ‘dangerous drug’ with ‘no value’ or narcotic should be changed to a classification of cannabis as a ‘controlled substance’.”

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