Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi

 Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi

Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi on behalf of Government made a case today for the decriminalization of marijuana.

The AG said under this Amendment Bill a person may now:

* lawfully grow no more than four Cannabis male plants at his residence and without a licence

* “Under the tiered possession scheme the Bill proposes the abolition of the present regime whereby possession of any amount is an arrestable offence.

*Under the new scheme, a person found in possession of 30 grammes of cannabis or less will no longer be arrested for possession.

*Government also proposes to impose an upper limit - 60 grammes - for lawful possession of cannabis or cannabis resin products.

The following is his statement in the House of Representatives on the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2019 And the establishment of the Trinidad and Tobago Cannabis Licencing Authority 2019.

Madam Speaker, I have been authorised by the Cabinet of Trinidad and Tobago to make the following statement.

Trinidad and Tobago is in the midst of one of the most aggressive and profound reformations of the Criminal Justice System. No other Government has sought to attack the scourge of crime by improving the whole system comprising plant and machinery, people, processes and law simultaneously.

Taking decisive action on the expansion of the Judiciary, the increase in the number of Judges, Masters, Registrars and Courts, the creation of Divisions of Court, the introduction of Rules of Court, the merger of jurisdictions of Court, the hiring of hundreds of professionals across the Court System, the expansion of the Prosecutorial system at the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service, the establishment of a Public Defenders System, the protection of witnesses, the introduction of laws to remove bottlenecks in the Criminal Justice System, laws to fight hard and bloody crimes and laws to ‘follow the money’ and ‘take the profit out of crime’ have been driven by dedicated data capture and rigorous analysis with a focus on the effect to the lives and consciousness of the people of Trinidad and Tobago.

Madame Speaker in addressing the reform of the Criminal Justice System many have ignored the profound effect that decriminalization of certain offenses can have in the Criminal Justice System.

The Judiciary in its publications has demonstrated that approximately 146,000 cases come to the Magistrates’ court each year. Of that number 104,000 cases are in respect of motor and road traffic matters alone. As you are aware the Government took the decision to amend the law to move road traffic offenses into violations and shortly with the operationalization of the U-Turn system of the Ministry of Works and Transport, Trinidad and Tobago will witness the removal of these road traffic matters out of the Magistracy and into an electronic Demerit System.

Madame Speaker the Judiciary data also reveals that in the period 2007 to 2018, 84, 668 cases came before the Magistracy under the Dangerous Drugs Act for possession of marijuana, possession of marijuana for the purposes of trafficking, cultivation of marijuana and the gathering of marijuana. 71,964 of these cases were for possession of marijuana alone. In the law term 2017/2018 the Judiciary reported that 9,553 marijuana related cases came before the Magistrate’s court with 8,316 being for possession of marijuana alone.

Many of these cases relating to marijuana demonstrate that mostly poor and underprivileged men suffer the brunt of the hard side of the law, with 3,429 people having been remanded for marijuana related offenses in the period 2010 to 2018, being approximately 500 persons each year, unable to access bail even through granted bail by the courts. The burden to the taxpayer of hundreds of millions of dollars expended in remand incarceration is as atrocious as the effect to the lives of the accused and their families. Convictions for possession of marijuana have derailed many lives as they stand as a bar to education, travel and employment.

The Government after significant research, wide stakeholder consultation and careful legislative scrutiny is of the firm view that it is the correct time to amend the Dangerous Drugs Act and to cause the strict licensing and regulation of the research, cultivation, supply and commercialization of marijuana through the establishment of a Cannabis Control Authority.

Whilst others have flirted or failed in the 25 years since the passage of the Dangerous Drugs Act, I am pleased as Attorney General to therefore witness the introduction of two Bills today, namely: the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Bill, 2019 and the Cannabis Control Bill, 2019.

Together, these Bills will amend the Dangerous Drugs Act and birth a new regulatory regime which will move our laws from a colonial archaic past to the future.

The Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Bill, 2019 seeks to define marijuana comprehensively as cannabis; to decriminalise certain quantities of cannabis and cannabis resin; to prohibit the use of the substance in public spaces, all educational institutions and places of work; to abrogate the present prohibition of the administration of the substance to children in medical cases only. It also modernizes the Criminal Justice System by introducing a tiered penalty system, premised upon the quantum of the substance in possession.

Madam Speaker, under this Amendment Bill a person may now lawfully grow no more than four (4) Cannabis male plants at his residence and without a licence. Under the tiered possession scheme the Bill proposes the abolition of the present regime whereby possession of any amount is an arrestable offence. This tiered possession scheme will establish lawful limits for possession and use. Hence under the new scheme, a person found in possession of 30 grammes of cannabis or less will no longer be arrested for possession. That being said, the Government also proposes to impose an upper limit for lawful possession of cannabis or cannabis resin products. That limit will be 60 grammes.

This Bill proposes that possession of more than 30 grammes, but not more than 60 grammes of cannabis, or more than 5 grammes but not more than 10 grammes of cannabis resin, is to now be treated by a Fixed Penalty ticket system with the brunt of the law being applied only where there is a refusal to pay the Fixed Penalty and only after the possibility of Community Service as an alternative remedy is explored.

The Bill strictly criminalizes smoking or using cannabis or cannabis resin in a public place.

The Bill also establishes specific penalties for the possession and trafficking of Dangerous Drugs such as Amphetamine, Ketamine and Lysergic Acid Diethylamides (LSDs) only recently introduced in the Dangerous Drugs Act by this Government.

The DDA will also strictly criminalises acts involving children. Hence, for example, a person who possesses cannabis, even within the allowable limits, will be prosecuted for having the substance on a school on bus or at school premises. He will be liable on summary conviction to a fine of $250,000 and to imprisonment of 5 years.

The Government is also concerned about the effect of the substance upon persons during the course of their work and operation of certain machinery. Thus the Bill proposes to prohibit persons, who, whilst under the influence of cannabis, does anything which constitutes negligence, professional malpractice or professional misconduct.

A similar prohibition applies to any person who operates, navigates, or is in actual physical control of any motor vehicle, aircraft, or ship whilst under the influence of the substance. In both instances, the conduct attracts a summary conviction to a fine of $250,000 and to imprisonment for 5 years.

It follows that in the interest of justice, persons with charges before the court for the new upper limit of 60 grammes of cannabis and 10 grammes of cannabis resin may apply to be discharged and that the criminal records of persons with convictions for the possession of the substance will be expunged and they will also be able to apply for pardon under Section 87 of the Constitution.

Under the Cannabis Control Bill, a state entity – the Trinidad and Tobago Cannabis Authority – will be established to administer a licensing and registration regime to legitimise, establish accountability and transparency for the use of cannabis by persons and bodies engaged in religious sacramental, medicinal and commercial activities.

The Authority will have the power to issue eight 8 types of licences, namely: a Cultivator Licence, a Research and Development Licence, a Laboratory Licence, a Processor Licence, Retail Distributor Licence, an Import Licence, an Export Licence, a Transport Licence. Notably, as their names imply, the licenses represent different points i.e. from growth to that involving therapeutic use.

There will be strict control for medicinal use and for religious purposes which are separately addressed in the Bill.

Only certain persons will be eligible for licencing and registration and there is a guaranteed minimum local content of 30% of ownership for companies and co-operatives so as to avoid the abuses that occurred with multinational domination in other territories.

There are careful safeguards in the Bill. With respect to religious organizations, there is the requirement for registration under the NPO Act 2019 as well as strict dispensary regime. Similarly, only persons licensed as a medical practitioner, may lawfully dispense and administer medicinal cannabis.

While cannabis growth and its use has desirous implications for the national purse and will surely be welcomed by the medical patient and religious communities, the Government will curtail opportunities for abuse of the new licensing and registration regime. This is effected through criminalisation of behaviours which adversely impact the administration of the Authority, breaches of confidentiality, unlawful disclosure of information, and undisclosed interest in businesses seeking a licence and dealing with cannabis without a valid licence.

Furthermore, the Government is mindful that while the reform allows the wider population to have greater access to, albeit to limited purposes, it remains concerned that reform should account for the interest of the nations’ children. They must be protected from misuse of the substance. To that end, the Cannabis Control Bill 2019 protects our children by criminalising certain activities involving children.

Firstly, to all parents and guardians or care givers of children, please note if a child under your care suffers from a medical problem for which medicinal cannabis can be helpful, you are required to exercise due diligence and care. You may be criminally liable if you fail to obtain a written certificate from the child’s medical practitioner, certifying that the child requires medicinal cannabis to remedy his aliment. Secondly, to all persons who accompany children to places of worship or similar environments, you may face the court if you cause or permit that child to use cannabis at a place of worship, a sacramental dispensary or at an exempt event, the penalty is a fine of $250,000 and to imprisonment for a term of 5 years.

Madame Speaker these Bills laid in the House of Representatives today represent the work of a progressive Government dedicated in the mission of getting it done! The benefits to the people of Trinidad and Tobago are so obvious now that the work has been done and put into context. It is axiomatic that the Criminal Justice System should focus on serious crime and that all roadblocks to justice should be immediately removed so that Judical and law enforcement time can concentrate where it matters most. It is equally axiomatic that Trinidad and Tobago should be anxiously conscious of the developments across the world which have recognised the economic potential of cannabis production unshackled from mid-19th century colonial values.

Whilst others have slumbered we have toiled.

We shall get it done!

I thank you Madam Speaker.