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Trinidad: Clean slate for previous marijuana convictions, charges

By Trinidad Newsday

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(TRINIDAD NEWSDAY) – ANYONE with a marijuana possession conviction will be able to apply to have their slate wiped clean so they can move on their lives with jobs and education, Attorney-General Faris Al-Rawi told cheering supporters at a PNM rally at La Horquetta Regional Complex on Thursday. He said, on Friday two bills to decriminalise marijuana will be laid in the House of Representatives.

Anyone with a pending marijuana possession case in the law courts will be able to apply to have it quashed, while anyone with such a conviction can apply to have it removed from their record, Al-Rawi said.

His announcement was then endorsed by the Prime Minister who lamented the many families who were broken up because of marijuana convictions, where typically poor people could not access bail, so ended up in jail.

“In TT, you know who is going to jail for marijuana,” Rowley said, citing US democratic contender Corey Booker’s recent remarks that the US elites have smoked for years while the poor are jailed. “Social justice, economic sense and the management of crime, that’s what it is,” the PM said referring to decriminalisation.

Al-Rawi began his speech on marijuana by quipping, “Some say it’s a rose, some say it’s a disease.”

He vowed two bills, an amendment to the Dangerous Drugs Act and a Cannabis Control Authority Bill will be presented in the House.

The AG justified the decriminalisation by citing the huge costs to the law courts, prisons and Forensic Science Centre (FSC) to analyse exhibits, plus the high personal price paid by users running afoul of the existing law. Some 82 per cent of the FSC’s workload is testing to distinguish marijuana from herbs like black sage, he said.

Al-Rawi said from 2007-2018, TT’s law courts heard 84,668 cases of possession, including 8,318 cases last year. He said the magistrates court annual case load would be just 8,000 cases if these marijuana cases were removed, on top of a removal of 104,000 traffic cases, from an existing annual total of 146,000 matters. The AG said the heavy case load was the genesis of thoughts on decriminalisation. He lamented that at present someone who is young and foolish who takes marijuana can end up jailed at length under remand (that is, awaiting trial), and could end up with a criminal record which prevents him getting a job, schooling or even a foreign visa.

Al-Rawi said from 2010-2018, some 3,439 people incurred marijuana convictions, namely 2,407 for possession, 991 for trafficking and 41 for cultivation. At a cost of $15,000 per month to keep one prisoner in jail, he calculated the cost to the taxpayer of all these marijuana convicts was some $617 million each year. He said this dwarfed to the $142 million the Government spent this year on CAPE scholarships.

The AG said decriminalisation will free up law courts to deal with more serious matters such as rape.

He said the new legislation will allow a person to have up to 30 grammes of herbal marijuana or five grammes of resin on their possession, without incurring any criminal charges. However possession of 30-60 grammes of the herb or five-10 grammes of resign could incur a fixed ticket from a police officer although he did not state penalty. Failure to pay that fine would incur a fine of up to $50,000, and a failure to pay that would incur 30 hours of community service. Al-Rawi said the THC chemical in marijuana acts as a hallucinogenic. “It has a different effect on everyone. Some people may have extreme reactions.” He said alongside decriminalisation will be a very aggressive educational campaign. Al-Rawi spelt out further measures. “We say you can’t smoke marijuana in a public place. Nowhere can you have a child.”

The AG said professional people would not be allowed to be under the influence of marijuana on their jobs, such as if they were an airline pilot, school teacher or bus driver.

Al-Rawi said individuals would be able own up to four marijuana plants, as he spoke about licensing of cultivation. He quipped, “We have the best cocoa in the world and perhaps we could have the best marijuana in the world.” Local licences for commercial marijuana would be issued only in cases where the TT investors constitute 30 per cent, so foreign entities would not swallow up the local players.

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