The decriminalisation of marijuana is expected to increase competition and drive down product prices, Minister in the Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs Fitzgerald Hinds says but he cannot predict whether this will increase turf wars.
Asked about the scenario where established drugs dealers could attack new and developing marijuana businesses, he said that while it was a possibility, a decriminalised environment may also end drug turf wars.
He was speaking to reporters at the San Fernando City Hall auditorium following the fourth of five public consultations on the decriminalisation of marijuana. Hinds said that the process remains on schedule and that work on relating legislation will begin at the end of June.
“Those I consider as matters of general national security. We have to continue in Trinidad and Tobago, driven, of course by the State, to provide a blanket of protection for all of the citizens here, whether they are in business or not or whether which business they are in,” Hinds said.
According to Hinds, the decriminalisation would mean amendments to the Proceeds of Crime Act, the Children’s Act, the Dangerous Drugs Act and the Customs Act. During the consultation, cannabis expert Dr Marcus Ramkissoon said that because marijuana is an illegal drug, the price is high. This leads to people risking prison-time by growing the plant. If it was legal, he said the prices would go down because more people could plant, increasing the supply, possibly more than the demand. He said it was the reason why good regulations would be important.
Ramkissoon, who has drafted regulations for marijuana in Antigua and Barbuda is working with the government on legislation. During the consultations, members of the Rastafarian movements lamented that marijuana was part of their faith and is used as medicine. However, they are labelled criminals for observing their religion and beliefs. Even a Hindu devotee expressed his desire for changes in the amendment as the marijuana leaves are used for prayers.
There have been calls for the criminal records for those charged for marijuana possession to have the convictions expunged. However, Hinds said that a legal limit for possession has to be established first before such consideration could be given.
“That is a matter that has been constantly raised by people in these consultations, particularly the Rastafarian community, who feel they have been targeted over the years and properly so in my own view. We will not be settled to determine that question now until, for an example, we determine how much we will permit as a legal amount.
The consultation was an emotional forum for members of the Rastafarian movement, who called for a “slice of the pie” if and when decriminalisation happens.
Priest Imsley of Zion, from the Eabic (Bobo Shanti), was wary that large corporations would invest heavily in the marijuana industry and the “small man” will not be able to benefit. This was of concern as in other countries where licenses are granted to produce marijuana, the regulator's price is hefty. Imsley inquired whether courses would be available for his movement to help get them ready for the industry.
Ramkissoon said that in T&T, there is a free capitalist system, meaning that people were free to engage in any business they desire using legal substances. He questioned members as to whether they would be able to form cooperatives that could gather enough funds and business acumen to tackle the industry.
The next consultation takes place next Wednesday at the Hansraj Sumairsingh Multi-Purpose Complex, in Rio Claro.