Speaking to reporters following the formal opening of a bridge in Carenage on Friday, Rowley said that early in 2019 the process will begin to decriminalize marijuana.
Rowley publicly stated his “commitment” to seeing the laws changed to allow for the use of marijuana on medical grounds to provide another avenue for people suffering with a host of ailments for which conventional medicine seems to have no effect.
Rowley's views come after months of conversations, petitions and rallies by those in civil society who are pushing for the decriminalisation of marijuana.
Rowley said, “We are expecting to have public consultations very early in the new year. I think we have done the legislative review already. The AG’s (Attorney General) Office has made the necessary consultative contacts with the Ministry of Health, the Law Association and so on. “We are going public with the consultations and then we expect to be in Parliament and get it completed before the middle of 2019. So it is well underway. We expect that by May to June, the decriminalization would have been effective,” Rowley said.
He reminded however, that people be clear that there is big difference between decriminalization and legalisation of marijuana.
“I want you to understand that there is a big difference between decriminalization and legalisation. I don’t want (any confusion), we have to be clear on what we are doing. We have committed to the decriminalization. What we are working on now is the method by which that represents in terms of the use.
“For example, I saw Mr (Basdeo) Panday say that if you are going to decriminalize and people are therefore not going to be prosecuted for using it. What does that mean in terms of allowing a person to grow one plant? Great question, but we have not gotten the answers just yet.”
In the meantime, Attorney Israel Khan SC, in response to the Prime Minister’s announcement on Friday, says he will will support the Government “100 per cent” in their efforts to decriminalise the use of medical marijuana and hopes that in the future the law would allow for recreational use.
Khan explained the possession of marijuana became a criminal offence in TT in 1962 as it was previously imported and used by East Indians for religious purposes. “Before that it was not illegal to smoke marijuana. And if you wanted more than five ounces you had to go to the warden’s office and get a permit to buy from the shop,” he said.
Khan pointed out that Government needed to control marijuana as was being done in Canada and other countries. “It’s just a matter of time before they decriminalise marijuana but they must go about it very carefully so I support the Government... Marijuana does not lead to any violence. What leads to violence is people who trafficking in marijuana and guarding their turf and the right to distribute.”
Khan said right now it was a criminal offence to possess marijuana unless a person could show they were certified to use it by a doctor, or had a prescription to purchase it for medical use. He said decriminalising it would mean a person could grow a specified amount of plants, possess a certain amount, and use it recreationally without a prescription, but not sell it.
He said with legalisation individuals still would not be able to grow vast amounts or sell, would not be able to smoke in a public place, and there would be a certain level in the blood stream that would be legal for driving, as it is with alcohol.
Former Health Minister Dr. Faud Khan, speaking about the Dangerous Drugs Act, said "any health minister could issue a licence for medicinal use only. A minister of health can sign off on certain aspects of THC. Marijuana has cannabinoids with a certain amount of THC. The ones with lower concentrations of THC are used for medical purposes, not the overt marijuana,” Dr. Khan noted.
He said in addition to medical practitioners and facilities, individuals could also be granted licences. For example, he said a person with cancer could apply for a licence but the ministry would first have to determine the concentration of THC in the person’s supply through the government’s lab.
A number of countries in the world, including several in the Caribbean, have decriminalized marijuana for medical purposes and some have allowed the use of it in small amounts. Jamaica and Cayman Islands have passed laws to allow people to use it for medical purposes and countries such as Antigua and Barbuda and Belize small amounts are permitted.
Canada has also legalised the use of marijuana as well as several states in America.
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