Applauding the legislative steps undertaken by Government to decriminalise marijuana in T&T, Prof Rose-Marie Belle Antoine is hoping the issue does not become a political football for those in authority wanting to score points.
Chair of the Caricom Regional Commission on Marijuana, Belle Antoine said the proposal that anyone found to be using or in possession of 30 grammes of marijuana or less would not be arrested or charged was, “More than a lot of the other countries has looked at so far. I am so happy we have gone the way of decriminalisation.
"One thing I am very happy about...and again, as I said on my Facebook, I hope it is not a political football because the process started in 2013 when the commission was formed and all government including ours agreed to form a commission."
The commission was established by the decision of the 25th Inter-Sessional Meeting of the CARICOM Heads of Government in March 2014 in St Vincent and the Grenadines with a mandate to conduct a rigorous enquiry into the social, economic, health and legal issues surrounding marijuana use in the Caribbean; and to determine whether there should be a change in the current drug classification of marijuana thereby making the drug more accessible for all types of usage (religious, recreational, medical and research).
Referring to the two pieces of legislation—the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Bill and the Cannabis Control Bill—which were laid in Parliament on Friday by Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi, Belle Antoine was heartened that the authorities were moving to address the issue in a holistic manner.
She said, “We have to get it right but at least we are cognisant of all that needs to be done at the level of the prisons, the inequalities, and the discriminatory type of law enforcement seen over so many years.”
Declaring this to be a step in the right direction, Belle Antoine urged people to be patient and wait until the legislation is enacted.
The second reading of the bills is expected to take place sometime next week after which, the Clerk of the House will read the bills for the third time including any amendments that were made during the committee stage. Once the bills are passed in the Lower House then, they will be laid in the Senate for debate.
Regarding how Government intended to address the issue of medical marijuana, Belle-Antoine revealed that her deepest fear was that the authorities would take medical marijuana and open it up to big business, with no assistance or reform as it relates to social justice issues.
Commenting about social media feedback which labelled the penalties as harsher than usual, she warned, “We don’t want to provide another loophole to end up with more people in jail, so we have to careful. I am cautiously optimistic, saying it is a step in the right direction.”
•On July 18, 2018, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley declared that decriminalising marijuana was not a priority for this government following an agreement at the 39th Heads of Government Conference in Montego Bay, where a consensus was reached by CARICOM members to review marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug.
Rowley’s position against the legislation of marijuana arose early in his administration.
•On May 2, 2016, Rowley said his administration had not discussed decriminalising marijuana even as the AG was quoted as saying they had been reviewing existing legislation as well as planning widespread consultation before adopting any position.
•On May 7, 2016, days after the AG announced that Government had begun the statistical groundwork on decriminalising marijuana possession, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh confirmed that he had the authority to grant permission for the importation of medical marijuana.
•Following a petition to legalise marijuana in late July 2018, the AG said Government would hold consultations on the issue of the decriminalisation of cannabis.