Government’s decision to decriminalize marijuana is driven by social justice as well as economic sense, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley said on Thursday night as he addressed at a public meeting in La Horquetta.
"The privileged elites have been smoking marijuana undisturbed for the longest while, any legalising now is to free up poor people from unnecessary jail," he said, a point, he said, that was made in the US Democratic Presidential debate by presidential hopeful Corey Booker . " You know in this Trinidad here who going to jail for a joint, you know who can't get bail and rotting in jail because they had 16 grams of marijuana. We changing that. But we are going to put the responsibility on you, the individuals, the same way the responsibility is there (on you) for tobacco and alcohol. You have a personal responsibility in the face of those substances being available," he said.
"You know how many families have been broken up and destroyed because somebody smoked a joint of marijuana? Is jail, is bail, is all kinds of unnecessary monies (to pay), some can't get a job, some can't go to school," he said.
The Prime Minister said the Government put a Technology Centre in Laventille to uplift the people and some of the residents who " along the way smoked a marijuana joint" had been disqualified" from enrolling in the Centre.
He said there were over 800,000 cases in the courts related to marijuana, tying up the system. " And the world has a solution and is saying like alcohol the time has come to manage this thing and to handle it with freedom. Because those who smoke it, can't smoke any more and those who not smoking it, ain't going to be smoking it. But you free up the system because the jail is full of young people who smoked marijuana. This morning I met with experts from the lab who told us they spent 82 per cent of their time doing chemical tests on every joint that they lock up somebody with. You know how much millions we paying people to do that? You know how many millions of dollars we paying people to prove that that is not a plant like substance, is not black sage bush, is marijuana?" the Prime Minister asked.
The Prime Minister said he knew that not everybody in the country would welcome Government's decision and that there were people opposed to the decriminalisation. But, he said, that is why we have a democratic system which says the majority opinion goes.
He recalled that at one time alcohol was illegal in US and half of the US police were chasing down people drinking and selling alcohol, but the moonshine industry still flourished.
The Prime Minister said the Government could not insulate the society. "This morning the experts showed me a set of pills- blue, green, white, brown, yellow- everyone of them could kill you. People are getting dressed, putting on nice lipstick on their mouth and going to party and swallowing those things, not knowing what the hell they swallowing can kill them. And we have to pay people now to try and prevent them from swallowing those things, and try to lock them up if they have it," he said.
He said the Government would manage marijuana in a way that would relieve the society of the costs and the pain that go with it. "Social justice, social sense, economic sense and the management of crime and fairness to all under the Constitution. That is what it is," he said.