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Trinidad: Marijuana decriminalisation bill for Par­lia­ment to­day

By Trinidad Guardian

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Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley before his address to supporters at the PNM’s Local Government meeting at the La Horquetta Complex, last night.

(TRINIDAD GUARDIAN) —  Leg­is­la­tion to have mar­i­jua­na de­crim­i­nalised is to be laid in Par­lia­ment to­day.

The an­nounce­ment of the long-await­ed leg­is­la­tion was made by At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Faris Al-Rawi at last nights Peo­ple’s Na­tion­al Move­ment (PNM) Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment elec­tion meet­ing in La Hor­quet­ta.

“Our Cab­i­net to­day (yes­ter­day) un­der our Prime Min­is­ter to­day (yes­ter­day) ap­proved for lay­ing to­mor­row in the Par­lia­ment, two pieces of law. One the amend­ment to the Dan­ger­ous Drug Act to de­crim­i­nalise the pos­ses­sion of mar­i­jua­na,” he said.

The Cab­i­net al­so ap­proved the lay­ing of the Cannabis Con­trol Au­thor­i­ty bill.

Al Rawi ex­plained the leg­is­la­tion pro­pos­es to al­low per­sons to have up to 30 grammes of mar­i­jua­na in their pos­ses­sion.

He added per­sons in pos­ses­sion of 30 to 60 grammes of mar­i­jua­na will be is­sued a fixed penal­ty no­tice by po­lice.

Once paid on time, AG Al Rawi said this will not af­fect a per­son’s crim­i­nal record.

How­ev­er, he not­ed fail­ure to do so, the of­fend­er may face a fine of up to $50,000.

The AG made it clear that per­sons will not be al­lowed to smoke mar­i­jua­na in pub­lic spaces, in­clud­ing the work­place, or while around chil­dren.

Al Rawi al­so re­vealed peo­ple who have a con­vic­tion or charge in re­la­tion to un­der 60 grams of mar­i­jua­na will be al­lowed to ap­ply to the court to have it dis­missed and re­moved from their crim­i­nal record.

In mak­ing the an­nounce­ment, Al-Rawi said that the courts were clogged by cas­es of mar­i­jua­na pos­ses­sion.

As many as 85,000 mat­ters clog­ging up the court sys­tem to­day has to do with mar­i­jua­na pos­ses­sion.

He al­so stat­ed ap­prox­i­mate­ly 500 peo­ple “cur­rent­ly sit down in a jail” be­cause they can’t ac­cess bail, cost­ing tax­pay­ers around $700 mil­lion.

He said de­crim­i­nal­is­ing mar­i­jua­na, will “free up 60 per cent of Foren­sic’s work­load” and al­low the court to fo­cus on more se­ri­ous crimes.

Al-Rawi, speak­ing at the PNM lo­cal gov­ern­ment meet­ing in La Hor­quet­ta last night, said that it was fig­ures like those that were dri­ving the need to de­crim­i­nalise mar­i­jua­na.

“Hence the idea and gen­e­sis of de­crim­i­nal­is­ing mar­i­jua­na,” he said.

Al-Rawi said from 2007 to 2018 there have been 84,668 mat­ters for pos­ses­sion of mar­i­jua­na in the courts.

“In 2018 alone, 8,316 peo­ple came be­fore the mag­is­trate court for pos­ses­sion of mar­i­jua­na pos­ses­sion alone, Al-Rawi said.

He said if those 8,000 cas­es were re­moved from the courts, it sig­nif­i­cant­ly re­duced the num­ber of cas­es judges heard and ef­fec­tive­ly sped up the ju­di­cial sys­tem.

He said it was not just peo­ple com­ing be­fore the courts but those who are in­car­cer­at­ed and sent to jail.

“For the pe­ri­od 2010 to 2018, 2,407 peo­ple were put in­to Re­mand Yard to­geth­er with 991 peo­ple for traf­fick­ing, 41 for cul­ti­va­tion,” he said.

Al-Rawi said rough­ly 500 a year were in­car­cer­at­ed in pre-tri­al con­di­tions, which means they have not been to court and can­not ac­cess bail.

Those 500 peo­ple are un­able to ac­cess bail be­cause they have no as­sets to bail them­selves out of prison on bail­able of­fences.

“These in­clude peo­ple who use cannabis for med­ical pur­pos­es, for epilep­sy, peo­ple caught with it and the man next to you had it and you get tak­en down,” he said.

He said the cost of those ar­rests and in­car­cer­a­tion are borne by tax­pay­ers.

He said it costs tax­pay­ers be­tween $15,000 and $20,000 per pris­on­er per year to keep those per­sons in jail.

“Tax­pay­ers pay for prison of­fi­cers, war­rant of­fi­cers, po­lice­men, food and elec­tric­i­ty in pris­ons, Jus­tice on Time for trans­port,” he said.

He said as much as $617 mil­lion was spent by tax­pay­ers every year to main­tain the cur­rent sys­tem.

He said if mar­i­jua­na was de­crim­i­nal­ized, it freed up the courts to deal with oth­er mat­ters.

“Mar­i­jua­na is clas­si­fied as a dan­ger­ous drug, un­der the dan­ger­ous drug act, it has a law and a law to reg­u­late it and mar­i­jua­na has been sub­ject to this Dan­ger­ous Drug Act, where pos­ses­sion of mar­i­jua­na means you are in pos­ses­sion of a dan­ger­ous drug and if you are in pos­ses­sion of a dan­ger­ous drug, if a po­lice­man finds you with that, you can find your­self on a charge,” he said.

“But Aun­ty Kam­la has rolled out, say­ing that they will deal with it, and pass laws to deal with it,” he said.

“We want to treat with this dan­ger­ous drug thing so the mag­is­trate and court could fo­cus on rape, ag­gra­va­tion, mur­der what­ev­er se­ri­ous crimes,” he said.

He said Per­sad-Bisses­sar had 10 years to change the law but nev­er did how­ev­er the PNM was look­ing at li­cens­ing the growth and med­ical us­age.

Mean­while, Prime Min­is­ter Dr Kei­th Row­ley said he was dis­ap­point­ed to learn that mil­lions of dol­lars were be­ing spent to process mar­i­jua­na of­fend­ers.

He said he knows some peo­ple will be against the changes but not­ed that this will re­build fam­i­ly re­la­tion­ships.

He al­so as­sured the Gov­ern­ment will en­sure there is a prop­er man­age­ment sys­tem in place.

Just this month Op­po­si­tion Leader, Kam­la Per­sad Bisses­sar, promised to de­crim­i­nalise the herb while ad­dress­ing UNC sup­port­ers at the Cou­va South Mul­ti-Pur­pose Hall.

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