Lighting up a “joint” lawfully may be ahead - but with certain very strict limitations.
Government’s marijuana decriminalisation bill proposes that people using 30 grammes of ganja or less won’t be arrested - but it debars use in public and workplaces and around children. Plus strict controls regarding medicinal and religious uses are prescribed.
The bill proposes fines of $250,000 plus five year’s jail for violations. It also limits home cultivation to four male marijuana plants with a licence.
Attorney General Faris Al Rawi who laid the proposed legislation in Parliament yesterday admitted it’s a “fairly complex” issue”. He said there are “careful safeguards” in the Bill.
He, however, declared, “ 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!”
The bills are the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2019 (DDA bill) and the Cannabis Control Bill which includes establishing a T&T Cannabis Licensing Authority.
Both require a simple majority vote for passage and can be passed with Government votes alone. Al Rawi didn’t say when they would be debated.
Al Rawi said, a state entity - the T&T Cannabis Authority - is proposed to administer a licensing/registration regime to legitimise, establish accountability and transparency for use of cannabis by persons/bodies engaged in religious, sacramental, medicinal and commercial activities.
The TTCA will issue licences for areas from growth to therapeutic use of the “herb” - licences for cultivation, research and development, laboratory work, processing, retail distribution, import, export, transport.
Only certain persons will be eligible for licensing and registration. There’s a guaranteed minimum local content of 30 per cent of ownership for companies and co-operatives to avoid abuses that occurred with multinational domination in other territories, Al Rawi said.
“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/registration regime. This is effected through the criminalisation of behaviours which adversely impact the administration of the TTCA, breaches of confidentiality, unlawful disclosure of information, and undisclosed interest in businesses seeking a license and dealing with cannabis without a valid licence.”
Al Rawi said data from the judiciary revealed that over 2007 to 2018, some 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 gathering of marijuana. He said 71,964 of these cases were for possession of marijuana alone.
He said, “Government after significant research, wide stakeholder consultation and careful legislative scrutiny is of the firm view that it’s the correct time to amend the Dangerous Drugs Act and for the strict licensing and regulation of the research, cultivation, supply and commercialisation of marijuana through the establishment of a Cannabis Control Authority.”
The Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Bill proposes:
• To decriminalise certain quantities of cannabis and cannabis resin
• Prohibit the use of the substance in public spaces, all educational institutions and places of work;
• To do away with the present prohibition of the administration of the substance to children in medical cases only.
• That persons may now lawfully grow no more than four male cannabis plants at his residence without a licence.
• Strictly criminalises smoking/use of cannabis or cannabis resin in a public place.
• A tiered possession scheme, abolishing the present regime whereby possession of any amount of marijuana is an arrestable offence.
• The tiered possession scheme will establish lawful limits for possession and use.
• Under the new scheme, a person found in possession of 30 grammes of cannabis or less will no longer be arrested for possession.
• An upper limit for lawful possession of cannabis/cannabis resin products will be 60 grammes.
• 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 the criminal records of persons with convictions for the possession of the substance will be expunged. They will also be able to apply for a pardon under Section 87 of the Constitution.
• 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) will be treated by a Fixed Penalty ticket system.
• The brunt of the law will be 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.
• Specific penalties for possession/trafficking of Amphetamine, Ketamine and Lysergic Acid Diethylamides (LSD).
Al Rawi said the DDA bill strictly criminalises acts involving children.
“A person possessing cannabis, even within the allowable limits, will be prosecuted for having the substance on a school, on a bus or school premises. He’ll be liable on summary conviction to a fine of $250,000 and to five year’s imprisonment.”
He said the Cannabis Control Bill protects children by criminalising certain activities involving children.
He added, “Firstly, all parents, guardians or caregivers of children, please note if a child under your care suffers from a medical problem for which medicinal cannabis can be helpful, you’re 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 ailment. Secondly, to all persons who accompany children to places of worship or similar environments, you may face the court if you cause/permit that child to use cannabis at a place of worship, a sacramental dispensary or at an exempt event. “
The penalty for that is a fine of $250,000 and five years’ jail.
The bill also covers effect of the substance upon persons during their work and operation of certain machinery. It 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 fine of $250,000 and five years’ jail.
There will be strict control for medicinal use and religious purposes, he added.
“Regarding religious organisations, there’s 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.”