AG reviewing marijuana laws

Sunday, May 1, 2016 - 20:00

Government has begun statistical groundwork for decriminalising of marijuana possession, says Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi. He told the T&T Guardian he is reviewing the Dangerous Drugs Act and wide consultation is planned before any policy decision is taken.

“There has been a full exercise of analysing the types of crime in our prisons and the pre-trials detention or remand statistics for a range of offences, including  possession of narcotics, and particlarly possession of cannabis. From that perspective there’s certainly a drive to gather statistical information,as the  issue of decriminalising of marijuana isn’t a simple one on the public  side,” the AG said.

“If one were to argue for decriminalisation, the limits to be applied must be considered. Does one wish to have a bus driver or teacher who’s in the course of  using narcotics, although decriminalised, on the job? That’s one set of societal factors to consider. On the other hand, is it right to engage in pre- trial detention in remand for two joints of marijuana  where your detention is by far longer than the conviction you can have?

“So obviously it involves proper consultation after gathering of  statistical information so that when the issue is brought to the public’s attention, it must be brought with facts, statistics, extrapolation on statistics, androecial  impact consideration as Trinidad and Tobago is a multi-dimensional society. There are, for instance, the views of religious bodies and  civil society groups that have to  be factored against any decision like this.”

Government "obliged to take holistic approach"

Al-Rawi said Government is “obliged to take a very holistic approach to agitating the issue.” 

He explained: “We have to  consider it as it applies across the board, be it in the criminal justice system, in the social factors associated with people detained for narcotic use of a small quantity and the societal message you send to your young,  aged or your disadvantaged.

“So that kind of exercise is what we’re engaged in and we’ll certainly not shy away from issues but embrace then in a comprehensive, responsible fashion. After full consultation, a policy decision will be taken and the requisite  instruction to attenuate—reduce the force of—the laws or draft new laws, will then be taken.”

 Specifically confirming that Government has started the groundwork to decriminalise marijuana, the AG said: “Definitely the statistical approach being taken in the consultation on the prison analysis is one of those springboards into that venture.

“As an enabler of laws I must accept the views of several interest sectors. When one hears the judiciary, Caricom leaders, states that have gone that way and several sectoral interest groups speak to the need for  decriminalisation, those aren’t soft voices which haven’t thought about issues.”

Important to think progressively

Al-Rawi said it was important to think progressively as well as responsibly so that laws are based on policy driven upon analysis with statistics, factual information and consultation.  

“So we’re gathering the statistical information. Very much so,” he said.

“And the exercise is being done and whatever the result, we’ll certainly engage with some transparency on the issue of analysis and also transparency of any advocacy that the government chooses after consultation on the position.”

 After that, he added, there will be a policy consideration. He agreed it cannot be an overnight process “because societal impact has to be considered,”

 Al Rawi said marijuana decriminalisation isn’t necessarily a novel thing since  T&T’s Customs law lists where duties are applied to import and export of ganja. He added that he isn’t ducking any issues.

The lobby to decriminalise marijuana has been gaining momentum in the last few years with various quarters, including the judiciary, bidding to free up security and other resources to deal with other pressing matters  Chief Justice  Ivor Archie alluded to the move when he addressed the opening of the 2013-2014 law term and Director of Public Prosecutions Roger Gaspard has supported decriminalisation..

Cautious responses on legalising ganja

Pro-decriminalisation quarters believe legalising marijuana can assist  T&T’s overburdened justice/security systems. The Caribbean Collective for Justice claims Caricom’s report on decriminalisation recommended a marijuana industry for medicinal purposes be developed selecting plants grown for cannabinoids; that the removal of incarceration as a penalty for marijuana possession be considered in light of the number of young people arrested for the offence regionally;  and that leaders “explore any commercial benefit from a potential multi-billion dollar industry including research, development and production of medicinal marijuana products.”

Reached for comment, Opposition MP Prakash Ramadhar, who held in the portfolio of Legal Affairs in the last PP administration said: “One has to be careful with this since not everyone is the same. I feel we cannot close our eyes to successes in the  medical marijuana aspect or use in treatment of some cancers or for pain but one has to be careful in experimenting. It may be beneficial for one, or harmful to another.”

President of the Law Association Reginald Armour said: “If the matter comes up, we’d certainly examine it...”

Colin Stephenson, who has been actively lobbying for decriminalisation of marijuana said he spoke with Al-Raw at the recent prison reform consultation and is “awaiting word on a proposed moratorium on arrests for possession of small quantities.”

Source: (Gail Alexander)