Trinidad bishop backs new law decriminalizing marijuana

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Claude Berkley.jpg

The Bishop of Trinidad & Tobago has applauded the vote by that country’s legislature to remove criminal penalties for possession of up to 30 grams of cannabis. Speaking at an “Old Year’s” service on 31 Dec 2019 at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Port-of-Spain, the Rt. Rev. Claude Berkley, however warned that alongside decriminalization the government should educate young people on the risks posed by mariijuana and address the country’s soaring crime rate.

On 11 Dec 2019 the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2019 was put forward by the government for debate and was passed by the House of Representatives following eight hours of debate.  Speaking for the government, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi said: “The history of cannabis is rooted in our country and, in fact, in our culture,” noting “cannabis certainly can be traced to several ethnic, religious, and cultural traditions…”

The bill seeks “to reform the criminal justice system by alleviating the burden placed on the system at all levels by the plethora of cases relating to the possession of cannabis; and to reduce the harmful impact of marijuana convictions which has been borne primarily by poor and underprivileged men.”

In the bill passed by the lower house of Parliament, those found in possession of fewer than 30 grams of cannabis will face no penalty. Those possessing 30 to 60 grams will be found guilty of a summary offense and may face a fixed penalty fine of TT$5000 (USD $739). Those who fail to pay the fine may be sentenced to a further fine of TT$50,000 and sentenced to 30 hours of community service.  The new law also forbids public consumption of cannabis and the driving of motor vehicles, aircraft or boats/ships under the influence of the drug.

A second Cannabis Control Bill (CCB) was also introduced to parliament that would permit the use of marijuana for medical, religious and research purposes. The house voted to send the CCB to a Joint Select Committee for review.

Bishop Berkley said he supported the new law, but asked the government to ensure that “services, rehabilitative centers, opportunities for community service, education in respect to what can happen by use and misuse” was provided, along with a responsible attitude towards addicts. The state should not be “locking up people with addictions” but supporting their reintegration in society.

The relaxation of marijuana laws in Trinidad must not become an excuse for the state’s inability to combate crime. “The murder rate, the bold faced slaughter of fellow human beings with impunity … theseeming inabuility to address the issue and bring it under control” must be the government’s first priority the bishop said.