Trinidad and Tobago’s Attorney General, Faris Al-Rawi.
Faris Al-Rawi

Three influential member nations of the Caribbean Community have made significant moves to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana in keeping with a region-wide recommendation for governments to act sensibly on this issue, putting pressure on others such as Guyana to get progressive with the program.

Authorities in Barbados, Trinidad and The Bahamas have all in the past week made major policy decisions to deal with a community decision to decriminalize marijuana use for limited amounts and to cease arresting people possessing weed for personal or sacramental purposes.

In Trinidad, the administration of Prime Minister, Keith Rowley, facing general elections by next September, introduced a decriminalization bill in the house, allowing for possession of up to 30 grams for personal or sacramental use. The bill will forbid police from arresting such persons.

As a safeguard, government has banned use in public spaces like workplaces and schools and fines of up to US$40,000 and a five-year jail term have been proposed for violators of these safeguard clauses.

A special cannabis authority will be established to administer a licensing and registration regime aimed at legitimizing, establishing accountability and transparency for people using marijuana for religious, sacramental, medicinal commercial purposes. The authority will also deal with issues of research, farm cultivation, processing, retail systems, the transportation of marijuana and export among other areas.

“These bills represent the work of a progressive government dedicated in the mission of getting it done. Whilst others have slumbered we’ve toiled. We shall get it done,” Attorney General Faris Al Rawi said as he debated in parliament. “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, government will curtail opportunities for abuse of the new licensing regime. This is effected through the criminalization of behaviors which adversely impact the administration, breaches of confidentiality, unlawful disclosure of information, and undisclosed interest in businesses seeking a license and dealing with cannabis without a valid license.”

CARICOM governments had back in 2014 decided to establish a commission to study the issue and recommend a way forward both in keeping with worldwide trends to decriminalize and commercialize marijuana use and cultivation and to stop the criminalization of youths for possession for a mere spiff of marijuana for personal use rather than trafficking.

In neighboring Barbados, a major row has broken out between government and the Rastafarian community because of a proposal from AG Dale Marshal that Rastas will have to obtain a special permit to cultivate the herb for their own use. The document will also cover the use of marijuana away from places of worship. Authorities are also considering legislation for medicinal purpose use.

But even as the row rages on, Prime Minister Mia Mottley said that the time is not necessarily near for the island to legalize or decriminalize recreational use without a referendum.

“We said in this same manifesto that we were going to legalize medicinal cannabis and go to referendum on recreational cannabis. Mr. Speaker, it is to my knowledge that the leader of the Democratic Labor Party (DLP) supports the decriminalization of recreational cannabis. The leader of the opposition and myself have spoken but I am confident that the truth is that there is far more consensus on these issues in this country than people might think,” Mottley said. “All Barbadians will have a chance to be able to go and to vote and they will have the chance to say, ‘Yes, it should be decriminalized or no, it should not be decriminalized. With everything else, we shall live by the result of that verdict.”

She argued that the 30 lawmakers in the house cannot sufficiently represent the island on the issue of recreational usage so the nation would be asked to vote on it in the near future.

In The Bahamas meanwhile, Prime Minister Hubert Minnis wants criminal records of people convicted for possessing and using small convicted removed from their and the official records as he became the first Bahamian head of government to back decriminalization. Antigua, Jamaica and Belize have already completed that process while community member states like St. Vincent and St. Lucia are way ahead on upturning the status quo regarding use, possession and commercial cultivation. The Caricom commission of 2014 had had town hall meetings in almost every member nation.

“Some of these people have been burdened with criminal records, making travel and finding work more difficult. I have seen firsthand how our current laws especially harm young people from modest backgrounds. Reforming our marijuana laws and changing how we treat people with small possession convictions is a matter of social justice. I support expunging the records of Bahamians convicted of possession of small amounts of marijuana. They deserve to move on with their lives free and clear of a criminal conviction. I eagerly await the release of the report by the Bahamas national commission on marijuana,” the PM said.

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