‘Why make arrest for 6 grammes?’
BY JADA LOUTOO Wednesday, September 18 2013
POLICE officers are welcoming the suggestion by Chief Justice (CJ) Ivor Archie to decriminalise marijuana.
Reacting to Archie’s suggestion, Police Social and Welfare Association public relations officer, Michael Seales, said that, “once that line is clear, as to what constitutes simple possession for personal use, we will welcome the change in decriminalisation for that purpose, so that it does not take up too much of the policeman’s time attending court for mere simple possession.”
“It makes no sense to take someone to court for just six grammes,” he said adding that “as an association, we will watch how the debate develops on the decriminalisation of the use of small amounts of marijuana.”
As it is right now, Seales said, anything under 15 grammes amounts to simple possession, anything above, is possession for the purpose of trafficking and punishable by law.
Also responding to Archie’s suggestion, was president of the Criminal Bar Association Pamela Elder, SC. She however, was not in agreement that marijuana use should be decriminalised.
Admitting that she was extremely concerned about the CJ’s statement and the impact it would have on vulnerable youths, Elder said as a legal practitioner she has heard the cries of parents of marijuana users.
“This statement would not help persons who are in rehabilitation centres, and more than that, the issue should have been thought out fully before an opinion was expressed.
“If we are going to decriminalise the use of marijuana, what are we going to do with seller? Licence to sell, and if so how much? And we cannot stop with the seller...What are we going to do with cultivator? The issue really must be thought out fully before certain opinions are expressed,” she emphasised.
According to Elder, better advice could have been given to young people to not become dependent on any substance.
In response to the CJ’s statement that decriminalising marijuana could take the burden off the police, prisons and the courts, Elder said, “You cannot sacrifice youths because it’s going to ease the criminal justice system. We should focus more on abstaining not legalising. If you legalise for the user then you would have to deal with the seller, the cultivator.”
Also weighing in on the issue was Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan who pointed out that marijuana was already legalised for medical use in small quantities, and must be administered by a medical practitioner.
However, he said marijuana was addictive and decriminalising it must be for use in small quantities because “excessive use causes psychotic behaviour.”
“If the Chief Justice is speaking about decriminalisation in that practical nature where the quantum decides what is criminal and for the purposes of trafficking, and what is not criminal, then that is agreeable,” Khan said.
Also calling for greater dialogue on the issue was Director of the National Drug Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention Programme (NADAPP) Wendy-Ann Wattie who said there should be more research and public discussion on how the population feels about decriminalisation.
“First of all we need to understand the difference between legalisation and decriminalisation,” she said noting that “decriminalisation would involve how the substance is used, and that may involve the amount, and the location.”
NADAPP’s responsibility, she said, “is to encourage discussion and public sensitisation on marijuana use. Other countries in the hemisphere are having similar discussions and some countries have already gone the way of decriminalising.”
Attorney General Anand Ramlogan said the CJ’s suggestion will no doubt ignite the raging debate on the merits and demerits of the use of marijuana. “There are legitimate concerns about the impact legalisation could have in our society,” he said, adding that easy access with legal approval could encourage persons to increase their usage.
“Our already overburdened public health care system will now have to cope with problems related to alcoholism, tobacco, and marijuana abuse.
On the flip side substantial resources will be freed up as law enforcement agencies will no longer be obliged to treat marijuana use as a criminal offence, and many youths will be saved from an unnecessary criminal record with attendance social stigma,” the Attorney General continued.
Providing somewhat of a historical perspective on the issue, Senior Counsel Israel Khan told Newsday that prior to 1964 possession of marijuana was not a criminal offence.
“It is interesting to note that possession of marijuana as criminal offence came in 1964, before that you could have possessed marijuana but if you went beyond five ounces you had to get a permit,” he said.
According to Khan, pundits would prior to 1964 smoke marijuana with the “chillum” pipe.
“Also the East Indian labourers were allowed to bring with them, as part of their contracts, their herbs, spices and also their ganja,” Khan said, as he fully supported the suggestion to decriminalise canabis.