Whether you are happy about it or not, history has been made.
As of this the 23rd day of December 2019, smoking a small amount of cannabis (aka marijuana, weed, pot, ganga, mary jane and many more) is now perfectly legal in Trinidad and Tobago!
The debate prior to the passage of the game changing legislation was passionate on both sides. Marijuana enthusiasts commonly citing the following reasons for legalisation:
- It would destroy the black market for weed, putting the sellers out of business.
- The government would enjoy much more taxes (if the alcohol sales in our country is anything to go by, for sure!).
- It would cause safety and quality controls to be implemented, giving users the assurance that they know exactly what they are buying (no weed mixed with heroin etc.)
- Medical reasons, e.g. pain management.
- It would put a spoke in wheel of gang violence, by eliminating the turf wars over weed.
- It frees up police time to focus on more serious matters.
The opponents had equally compelling arguments against legalising marijuana:
- It’s a gateway drug: that some studies show a link between using weed then moving up to harder drugs such as heroin and cocaine.
- Marijuana alters the mind’s perception and can make doing certain things dangerous (e.g. driving a car).
- Weed can damage the user’s health particularly causing lung and brain damage.
- Second hand smoke puts the health of nearby non-users at risk.
- People will get addicted to lighting up pot.
Let’s take a look at some of the highlights of the new cannabis laws:
- It is no longer illegal to have in your possession 30 grammes of cannabis or five grams of cannabis resin, as well as possessing or cultivating a limit of four plants of the genus cannabis. How many “joints” can you get from 30 grammes? There are some studies which indicate 30 grammes of weed could be rolled into anywhere between 30 to 90 “joints”. How much cannabis leaves can you get from one tree? Anyone who has seen news footage of the police burning illegal marijuana fields would recall that they can become some sizeable trees. The capacity of one tree to supply leaves for smoking could be quite high.
- The penalty for breaching the legal limits – $50,000 or $75,000 on summary conviction. The smaller sum applies if you are caught with over 30 grammes but under 60 grammes of cannabis, or more than five grammes of resin but not more than ten grammes. The higher penalty applies where you possess over 60 grammes but under 100 grammes of cannabis, or more than ten grammes of resin but not more than 14 grams.
- The Court can order a person convicted of breaching the limits mentioned above to do 30 or 50 hours respectively of community service, if that person fails or in unable to pay the fine.
- A police officer can give a person a ticket in the sum of $2,000 payable in 14 days for smoking cannabis or cannabis resin in a public place. If that sum is not paid, the matter goes to Court. The Dangerous Drugs (Amendment Act), 2019 defines a public place as: “an indoor or outdoor area, whether privately or publicly owned, to which the public has access by right or by invitation, expressed or implied, whether by payment of money or not but does not include any premises in actual use as a dwelling which are not used for commercial purposes”.
- A person who does anything which constitutes negligence, professional malpractice, or professional misconduct while under the influence of cannabis is liable on summary conviction to a fine of $250,000 and imprisonment for five years.
- Persons with cannabis or cannabis resin in their possession on a school bus or on any premises where children are present for the purposes of education or attending or participating in any sporting or cultural activity are similarly liable on summary conviction to a fine of $250,000 and imprisonment for five years.
- Persons who operates, navigates, or is in actual physical control of any motor vehicle, aircraft, or ship whilst under the influence of cannabis are also liable on summary conviction to a fine of $250,000 and imprisonment for five years.
Time will tell what the social impact of this new freedom will be. It is hoped that like alcohol consumption, citizens will practice moderation and responsible decision making. If you’re one of those who intend to exercise your newfound right, the question then becomes: do you know how to roll?
© Neela Ramsundar, LL.B (HONS), L.E.C is a Civil Litigation Attorney at Law & Certified Mediator
Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for general informative purposes only. It does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney – client relationship. For legal advice, please contact an Attorney-at-Law of your choosing directly.
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