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PM softens stance on ganja decrminalisation

Published: 
Sunday, July 22, 2018
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Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley speaks with Caribbean Collective for Justice head Nazma Muller after he received a petition from her on his arrival to Parliament on Friday. Photo by:M.Gonzales

Just because the issues of the decriminalisation and legalisation of marijuana are not a priority for the Government at this time it doesn’t mean the matter cannot be dealt with, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has said.

Rowley made the statement in a WhatsApp conversation with Guardian Media Limited following his receipt of a petition by cannabis activists calling for marijuana to be legalised in T&T.

On Friday, head of the Caribbean Collective for Justice Nazma Muller delivered a petition to Rowley with 10,000 accompanying signatures calling for the legalisation of marijuana here.

Rowley assured Muller that a meeting, which will include Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi, will be scheduled to discuss the way forward on the matter.

At a recent post-Cabinet press conference, however, Rowley had stated that the issue of the decriminalisation and legalisation of marijuana was not a priority for his Government.

The Government had also previously denied a request by a Caricom-appointed group to have a national consultation here on the issue of the reform of marijuana laws.

Similar requests across the region were accommodated and the committee subsequently produced a report which suggested other Caribbean countries where the issue has not already been addressed were ready to support amendment to laws to allow for the legalisation of marijuana.

But with Rowley receiving cannabis activists with open arms on Friday, was this a sign that his position on the situation had softened?

Guardian Media Limited reached out to Rowley to find out.

“It is a clearer approach and I never said that we will not address it. I said Trinidad and Tobago’s position is the position as agreed to in the written communiqué issued after the Caricom meeting in Montego Bay,” Rowley wrote.

“It not being a priority, given all that we are grappling with now, does not mean that it cannot be dealt with. I will put a Government team in place to open a simple straightforward dialogue in the country and after we inform a wider national community we then take a policy position and act upon it.

“There is no need to fight over it, there is a need to talk about it. We will do that engaging all the inputs from all quarters. Many lives are affected and/or influenced by it so we will make provisions to engage it going forward.”

The communiqué referenced by Rowley was issued by Caricom following its Heads of Government meeting at Montego Bay, Jamaica, earlier this month which was chaired by Jamaica Prime Minister Andrew Holness.

At that meeting, the Caricom heads welcomed the Report of the Regional Commission on Marijuana chaired by Professor Rose-Marie Belle Antoine.

“Heads of Government recognised that the current classification of marijuana as an illicit drug presented a challenge in the conduct of research to fully understand and ascertain the medicinal benefits to be derived.

“They agreed that action should be taken at the national level by the relevant authorities to review marijuana’s current status with a view to reclassification taking into account all international obligations,” the Caricom communiqué stated.

“They also expressed concern about the effect of marijuana use on young persons given the conclusive evidence that existed,” the communiqué added.

Heads of Government recognised that Member States would need to review the report in more detail to determine action at the national level in relation to law reform models as proposed by the commission.

Muller referred to the 132-page report by the Caricom Marijuana Commission in the petition presented to Rowley.

The petition called on Rowley to, among other things, use retro-activity “as a tool to correct past injustices, such as expungement of criminal records”.

“We hope you will be guided by compassion and reason and move to right the historical wrongs inflicted on our own people by unjust, discriminatory laws,” the petition stated.

“Among the experts on the commission was a criminologist and it was noted that ganja is the most lucrative black market commodity and is the motive for many of the murders and violent crimes committed annually because of its inflated price.

“We ask you to suspend arrests for possession of cannabis immediately and to instruct the Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh to write the regulations for the issuing of licences to those who need cannabis for medical reasons as quickly as possible, especially cancer patients, as outlined in the amendment of 2000 that gives the Minister the power to issue licences for the use, sale, cultivation import, manufacture and exportation of cannabis.”

It added: “We hope that you will see the extraordinary opportunities that legalisation of cannabis offer in terms reducing crime, saving police time and resources and the creation of jobs for our people. The report of the Caricom Marijuana Commission contains extensive data and scientific evidence about the efficacy of cannabis in treating a range of diseases.”

The recommendations the petition is calling for Rowley to adopt are:

* Cannabis/marijuana should be declassified as “dangerous drug” or narcotic, in all legislation and reclassified as a controlled substance.

* Caricom states should act to remove “prohibition” status from cannabis/marijuana, substituting the current prohibitive, criminal sanctioned regime with legal and social policy that emphasise public health, education and human rights; Caricom states should have a margin of appreciation as to how to achieve this ultimate goal by complete and immediate removal of all prohibitive legal provisions, thereby rendering cannabis/marijuana a legal substance, which is regulated only in strictly defined circumstances.

- As a preparatory step, the decriminalisation of cannabis/marijuana for personal use in private premises and medical purposes.

* Full prohibition for children and adolescents with an appropriate age limit should be maintained except for medical reasons; however, young people who use marijuana will be directed to treatment and diversion programmes rather than being prosecuted or criminalised.

* The law should enact legal definitions of hemp based on low THC levels and make clear distinctions between hemp and other varieties of cannabis and ensuring that all legal sanctions be removed from hemp and hemp production.

* Legislation should provide for the protection of seeds, strains of cannabis, through intellectual property mechanisms.

* Customs law should be amended to make provision for the import and export of cannabis and cannabis products, as appropriate.

* Commercial cannabis activities should be decriminalised or legalised to avoid the implications of anti-money laundering legislation and Proceeds of Crime legislation.

* Cannabis/marijuana use should be banned in public spaces.

* Small farmers and small business persons should be included in production and supply arrangements with appropriate controls limiting large enterprise and foreign involvement.

* An equitable land use policy for marijuana cultivation should be formulated.

* Distribution points for cannabis and its products should be limited.

* Special provision should be made to protect religious rights in the new regime.

* Retroactivity should be used as a tool to correct past injustices, such as expungement of criminal records.

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