The catchphrase synonymous with the marijuana decriminalisation movement reverberated around Woodford Square in Port-of-Spain yesterday, as hundreds gathered for this country’s first ever National Cannabis Rally hosted by All Mansions of Rastafari.
For approximately 10 hours, the illegal drug appeared to be temporarily “decriminalised” within the confines of the park, as ganja smokers from across T&T openly lit up in the shadows of the under-renovation Red House and Hall of Justice.
Around midday, however, senior police officers were seen checking whether the organisers had permission to host the rally and to remind them that possession of marijuana is still illegal.
“We just want to make sure that nobody has a marijuana plant exhibition. It has not been decriminalised yet,” one officer was heard saying before they left.
Only a handful of police officers remained for the event thereafter, but they chose to patrol the perimeter of the square instead of navigating through the crowd.
The rally featured a mix of Rastafarian prayers and chants, music and speeches by numerous local and international cannabis activists and proponents.
There were no marijuana or cannabis-infused products being openly sold, but you did not have to look hard to see it being consumed.
While some openly smoked, others drank homemade ganja wine and consumed edible products with strangers whose only previous connection was their mutual love of marijuana. Some people were selling trinkets and jewellery, while others peddled T-shirts, grinders, bongs, smoking paper and other marijuana paraphernalia.
While the participants mainly consisted of members of the different Rastafarian sects, there were also others from a wide cross-section of T&T society. Attendees were treated to performances from a cadre of up-and-coming and veteran local reggae musicians and singers as the event dragged on late into yesterday evening.
Minister in the Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs and Laventille West MP Fitzgerald Hinds, himself a Rastafarian, was also present at the event. In a brief interview, Hinds noted that yesterday was not his first attendance at an event hosted by the movement. Hinds is currently a member of a Cabinet committee tasked with considering a recent report from Caricom’s Marijuana Commission calling for decriminalisation of marijuana for recreational and medical purposes.
“I am here to listen and learn so I can better inform the committee to which I am a part as we go forward with this important issue,” Hinds said.
While he said Government was keeping an open mind on the issue, Hinds said he personally favoured decriminalisation where persons do not face criminal sanctions for the possession of small amounts of marijuana.
“The jail is overpopulated with young men who would have been found with a small amount of marijuana. It is really unproductive,” Hinds said.
Also speaking with Guardian Media Limited was Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) leader David Abdulah, who said his party supports decriminalisation and he was personally part of planning the rally. Abdulah said he was also concerned about the impact of criminalising marijuana on the criminal justice system.
“The criminal justice system is stacked up against thousands of our young people who sometimes are on remand for small quantities of marijuana. That really does make no sense what so ever,” he said.
Although he said he was in support of decriminalisation, he expressed concerns about how it could be effected.
“We in the MSJ don’t want a situation where we get medical marijuana or small quantities for recreation use and we have big business and corporations, either abroad or locally, capitalising on the economic benefits of it and making billions of dollars while ordinary people are once again marginalised,” he said.
Abdulah said the issue of marijuana being a holy sacrament of the Rastafarian faith also had to be considered.
Dean of the University of The West Indies’ (UWI) St Augustine Campus Faculty of Law Rose-Marie Bell-Antoine, who chaired Caricom’s commission, was one of the featured speakers at the event.
She explained that for over two years the commission studied the issue around the region and concluded thereafter that marijuana should be decriminalised.
“From a personal point of view, I am convinced that as a matter of priority we must change the law on cannabis or ganja. It is bad and unjust law,” Bell-Antoine said.
She said the general consensus from around the region was that it should occur.
“The vast majority of the people we spoke to want law reform. So there is overwhelming support,” she said.
In a brief interview, events manager for All Mansions of Rastafari Courtney Du Four explained that the rally was the first of many that will be held.
“We intend to go all over T&T to spread the message,” Du Four said. (See Pages A8-A9)