For a while, Trinidad and Tobago have considered joining other Caribbean countries to decriminalize the use of marijuana. In December of 2018, the Prime Minister stated that the drug may be decriminalized as early as mid-June. Till now, people are still wondering what this law will entail.
It is expected that drug trafficking will reduce once the law is passed. The Prime Minister Keith Rowley insists “decriminalization” is not “legalization”. Therefore, while plans are underway, it still going to address indiscriminate use of the substance. The medicinal benefits of cannabis needs to be exploited in such a way that it does not adversely affect society. This prompted the Attorney General’s Office to hold series of consultation with societal stakeholders to enable them make informed decisions.
Rowley’s decision came as a shock to many, as he has earlier been reluctant to reform marijuana laws. However, fresh changes by neighboring countries like Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, coupled with the backing by the public and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), seem to have lightened his Cabinet’s stand on the matter.
In August 2018, a report by CARICOM advocated for an end to “prohibition and draconian criminal penalties” for ‘ganja’ possession. The group encouraged Governments in the region to consider both decriminalization and legalization. In Trinidad and Tobago, a number of groups including All Mansion of Rastafari (AMOR) have demanded for outright legislation. They are of the opinion that decriminalization is not sufficient to confront the ills of prohibition.
Getting arrested for marijuana possession in Trinidad and Tobago is easy. While arrests do not always lead to imprisonment, they’ll ordinarily go hand-in-hand with a court appearance. The current legislation in the country prescribes a fine of TT $25,000 (approximately $3,690 USD) and a five-year prison term for anyone caught in possession of the substance. The penalty could be increased to twice the amount depending on the quantity of marijuana found and upon prior convictions. As a matter of fact, you could be charged with possession even if found in a private space (such as a home or car) unless of course you can prove it was there without your knowledge.
In the new legislation, decriminalization would ensure possession for personal use will attract no penalties. The law’s position is clear on issues, like the amount allowed per person as well as details on production and distribution, says Attorney General, Faris Al-Rawi. He however stressed “Decriminalization is not legalization”.
Even in the new dispensation, it will remain illegal to consume marijuana in public spaces and such actions will still attract stiff penalties.
One of the most important reasons for this law is its expected effect on local law enforcement and the justice system. The distinction between decimalization and legalization reduces pressure on the justice system. This will allow more resources to be available for tracking drug traffickers and smugglers who create more problems for the society.
The reality in Trinidad and Tobago, is that, prohibition does not seem to have the desired effect on marijuana use for personal gains with many claiming it is necessary for their wellbeing.
Many economists are of the opinion that decriminalizing marijuana could have a major effect on the economy. This is especially because of its medicinal properties that have begun to gain global recognition and acceptability. Tapping this resource could improve many slow-moving economies.
For instance, Jamaica has recently been investing in the Medical Cannabis Industry, exploiting the plant’s healing properties as part of its economic diversification program. Recent research have hinted that in the next few years, medicinal marijuana industry could be worth billions of dollars. Jamaica cannabis farmers are able to export their produce to the US and Canada where there is high demand for the product. Estimates of Cannabidiol, a compound found in cannabis could be worth up to a billion pounds in the UK market in no time.
If this law passes, it could see many Trinbagonians tap into the marijuana industry as it is able to grow more naturally in their tropical climate.
Marijuana and religion
In places like Trinidad and Tobago, there has always been a religious side to the consumption of Marijuana. The Caribbean’s Rastafarian community have been vocal in their push for reform so they can practice their religion without fear of intimidation. The Rastafarians hold the plant in high esteem. Members regard it as the “tree of life” mentioned in the bible; used ritually to assist in meditation as the portal to spirituality. As a result of this growing concern, St. Kitts and Nevis decriminalized the use of marijuana.
Some people think that decriminalization may increase crime rate in Trinidad and Tobago. Decriminalization will however be a monumental stride in the fight for legalization of marijuana in the country.
Restrictions over medicinal Use of Marijuana
Due to production and government restrictions, the medicinal use of marijuana has not been sufficiently tested.
Factors that limit its use are memory and cognition problems and risk of addiction. Others are, schizophrenia in young people, and the risk of children ingesting it by accident.
Whatever happens, the marijuana/cannabis market seems to be in for a jolly ride.