President Of Trinidad & Tobago Proclaims Marijuana Bill As Law

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White Hall Office of the Prime Minister, Port of Spain, Trinidad Photo: Shutterstock

Marijuana users will be in high spirits for Christmas as the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act takes effect from Monday.

It is now law after President Paula-Mae Weekes proclaimed the legislation on Friday, even as Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi said the President had given assent to the bill and would proclaim it on Monday. However, the President signed the proclamation on Friday, and it was released by the Office of the Parliament on Saturday.

From Monday, adults can have in their possession up to 30 grammes of marijuana and each adult in every home can own up to four plants.

They are not allowed to smoke marijuana in a public place and or while operating a vehicle.

The bill on the decriminalisation of small amounts of marijuana was passed in the House of Representatives and the Senate. It was laid in Parliament on November 21.

The Senate did not debate the Cannabis Control Bill (to regulate the business of cannabis) as the House sent this to a joint select committee. The committee will report to Parliament in February.

Sunday Newsday spoke with a senior attorney, on condition of anonymity, who has been closely monitoring the change in legislation.

The attorney said the issue now the discernment of the individual and police in the application of the law.

“From what I understand, as is, you can reap the 30 grammes off the plant but leave the rest. If you reap more than you can smoke, then you are opening up yourself for arrests.”

Section 6(A) states that anyone with more than 30 grammes, but not more than 60 grammes, of cannabis; or (B) more than five grammes, but not more than 10 grammes, of cannabis resin, commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of $50,000. Regarding the growing of four plants, the law states that a person can cultivate or have in their possession not more than four growing female plants of the genus cannabis which is found in section 6(2A).

What the law says
The act does not interfere with the law against trafficking where small amounts within a school zone, is deemed trafficking. While an adult is allowed the 30 grammes of marijuana, if caught within 500 metres of a school Section 7(A) and (B) states that they can be punished with as little as a $50,000 fine on summary conviction and to as much as $150,000 or 35 years to life in prison on indictment.

The law also prohibits the consumption of marijuana in any public space. This is expected to be addressed in the Cannabis Control Bill which will allow companies to grow and sell marijuana for commercial gain.

The attorney went on to state that the legislators may have left the issue vague intentionally in the hope that “people use common sense.”

Asked about the police arresting people at their homes who have more than 30 grammes on their four plants, the attorney said arrests will unlikely happen.

“The less said is better, but as I said before, it is up to the citizens to manage their reaping, if it’s on the tree it’s on the tree and you are allowed a certain number of trees so I don’t think the police can arrest you.”

In an emailed response to Sunday Newsday, Colin Stephenson, director and founder of C420, a pro cannabis NGO, said the decriminalisation of small amounts of marijuana was already allowed.

“Under current law and irrespective of the Attorney General’s “ganja bill”, cannabis in Trinidad and Tobago is already decriminalised, insofar as any citizen may apply for a “licence” from the Ministry of Health, to possess, cultivate, import/export cannabis.

As such, since 2012, C420 made the public aware of the law pertaining to Cannabis Licensing and furnished applications to the Ministry of Health on behalf of numerous citizens of Trinidad and Tobago who were and remain in ill health and remain desirous of availing themselves of the law.”

In a telephone interview on Friday, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi said the matter of having more than 30 grammes of marijuana or the plant was not the focus of the law but the immediate stopping of arresting people for small amounts.

Al-Rawi added that there were 87 adults and 14 children in the prison system who will benefit from the decriminalisation of the drug. Some of them would have been held for a little as half a gramme of marijuana. He said it made no sense for someone who couldn’t pay a $1,000 fine to be housed in jail three months at a cost of $75,000 to the State.

“It is insane these laws were in operation so long.”

He added that the Cannabis Control Bill will address all other concerns regarding possession of over 30 grammes of marijuana.

Al-Rawi, watch where you get your weed
Al-Rawi reminded users to be careful about the where they get their marijuana as some people may lace it with other drugs. In another Sunday Newsday interview on Saturday, the AG said next year there will be legislation to treat with testing the drug levels in drivers similar to the breathalyser. In the interim, police can use field sobriety tests to determine if a driver is under the influence of a dangerous drug like marijuana. If deemed to be under the influence, the driver on first conviction face a $12,000 fine.

During a media conference on Friday Al-Rawi said on Monday his attorneys will engage the courts to help disaggregate data to see who could benefit from the new law. He added that all courts are now compiling records to review the cannabis cases on people on remand and under conviction.

During the Senate debate, Al-Rawi dedicated it to deceased former senator Corinne Baptiste-McKnight who used marijuana to cope with her cancer. Apologising for his many breaks in his speech, he said then: “Corinne, today we do this for you.”

He said the bill was all about social and criminal justice and was also driven by statistics as most cannabis charges were for simple possession. Al-Rawi told Parliament the decriminalisation will remove 8,500 cases from the system. He repeatedly said most of the time spent on drug analysis at the Forensic Science Centre was for cannabis.

Al-Rawi gave a breakdown by age of people charged for cannabis during 2015-2018:

  • under-15 – 38
  • 15-19 – 902
  • 20-25 – 2,848
  • 25-29 – 2,783
  • 30-34 – 2,466
  • 35-39 – 1,639.

“It is worse when we talk about ethnicity. There is a preponderance of tripping of the law by our African population and our youth.” He added that for an unstated period, of the people aged 18-35 charged for cannabis, 352 were of African descent, 124 East Indian and 185 mixed-race.

Tips on education drive
Contacted on the issue, Police Commissioner Gary Griffith said his officers began a national education campaign on Saturday. He added that all the laws pertaining to what can and can’t be done will be conveyed to the public and advised that the National Security Ministry be contacted for further information.

National Security Minister Stuart Young when asked about the police readiness to treat with the new law, responded via WhatsApp, saying: “This initiative and process was driven by the Attorney General. I have asked the Attorney General to be updated and informed as he has been communicating with the Commissioner of Police and the Commissioner of Prisons on the enforcement and effects of the legislation.”

At Friday’s press conference, Al-Rawi said the Government Printery is now printing 10,000 booklets of penalty forms.

“So the police are ready for use. The police will do a very aggressive exercise of monitoring and awareness.”

Al-Rawi said the monitor the use of cannabis, drunk driving and drugs such as ketamine, meta-amphetamine and LSD.

“The police service is on high alert to protect our citizens.”

He said being under the influence of alcohol or drugs when driving would still incur a $12,500 fine and three years jail (first offence) and a $25,000 fine and five years jail (second offence) under the Motor Vehicle and Road Traffic Act.