At first the Chief Justice’s recent marijuana comments sounded significant. But, apart from the word “decriminalisation” heading that section of the CJ’s new law term speech, the comments were peripheral. In any event all it took was one genuinely fake university certificate to put things back into context. Unless the CJ produces data, weed ranks lower than “skull” and “bobol” on the list of critical issues facing the country. And, as usual, when it comes to skullduggery it is always some well-positioned person beating the system and getting ahead. Without weed, of course.
Marijuana has been part of the society for decades. Its criminal law significance has had some high points, until it was surpassed by cocaine, guns, kidnapping, and killings. While no one would suggest that marijuana use is as innocuous in law as jaywalking, there are obviously bigger problems for the criminal justice system to worry about than weed possession.
Among those bigger problems, skullduggery ranks first. For six decades the country’s corruption infrastructure has grown bolder but not more sophisticated. Still, there is little interest in reshaping the limited criminal law to cover the many forms of corrupt practices in the public and private sectors, often in the area of public sector procurement. There is also little interest in reshaping the limited laws covering the funding of political parties, election candidates and elections, and the quid pro quo of power and wealth. In the open space, skullduggery grows.
Since the 2012/13 law termed opened just three days after the House voted to remove Section 34 from the legislation, this year may have been perfect for the CJ. His Lordship may have opined on a present danger that is more pervasive than marijuana. Overworked and under-resourced legislators create problems for the legal system. Bad law not only wastes legislative time, but judicial time also. And, at the bedrock of the judicial system, the absence of election financing reform threatens the Constitution and the future of this democracy. Money and political power are always in search of courtship. By their nature the two must be kept apart, but can only be managed through tough laws and unbridled enforcement. These are absent and in the space a Section 34 can happen anytime.
Out of this lack of interest in reform, the culture of skullduggery now encompasses invisible degrees claimed by the former deputy chairman of the Airports Authority; dead referees and other questionable claims made by a commissioner in the enquiry into the 1990 attempted coup; and, a fake degree award used by the former Airports Authority executive with a “post-graduation” career spanning 20 years in the State-owned airline and the State-funded Airports Authority.
Toss into that crucible of corruption the diploma mills printing doctorates for politicians, pastors, and John Public, and the “Dr” handle being touted by herbalists and one “sex therapist”, without sanction from professional bodies and without interest from the police.
And toss into the mix the questions over the credentials of the former chair of T&TEC, and the still unknown hundreds faking it on State boards, in private and public sector health facilities, in classrooms and boardrooms, and across the broad areas of life in Trinidad and Tobago where every greed and fake finds an equal place.
This culture of corruption, endemic and untouched, is far more important than marijuana worries. At the opening of the current law term, not even the Chief Justice appeared fully motivated to light up the marijuana debate. It is clear that the speech did not promote decriminalising or legalising marijuana use. At best, near the end of the prepared text, a five hundred-word section is captioned “decriminalisation”, and in that section the Chief Justice talks about marijuana, the Drug Treatment Court, and the experience of one person at the Drug Treatment Court.
When His Lordship mentions Dr Sanjay Gupta in that section of his speech, it is for name association only as the Chief Justice never gets into Gupta’s about turn on marijuana and the scientific facts about the plant. In fact, the Chief Justice’s few comments on marijuana were nowhere near Gupta’s recent publications on the plant and two realities on the current debate.
First, Dr Gupta’s about turn was founded on his previous lack of appreciation for credible scientific data on the medicinal potential of certain chemicals found in cannabis. Gupta has not discussed the relationship between criminal law, the justice system, offenders and marijuana. On that local discussion, if the Chief Justice wishes to engage in one, he will find no support in Gupta unless he associates with his views with marijuana and medicine. Second, the Chief Justice’s comments ignored scientific data that show that marijuana continues to be harmful to teenagers and young adults.
By not setting out a case for marijuana decriminalisation or legalisation, we still do not know how many matters relating to marijuana are before the courts; how many involve possession and how many involve trafficking; and how many engage existing sentencing powers which include non-custodial, rehabilitative, or community based solutions. The Chief Justice has not given us his thoughts on how we may separate the scientific potential of marijuana from the scientific perils of the chemicals found in marijuana. He has not shared his views on cultivation, proceeds from the trade, and the cross-border implications of making marijuana less of a criminal offence.
Even as an eye-opener or entry into a wider discussion, the Chief Justice’s comments on marijuana lack the due diligence required for such ground breaking matters. We cannot disregard his interest in marijuana law reform. But, what we really need from our Chief Justice are strong comments on corruption and the legislation required to combat it.
• Clarence Rambharat is a lawyer and university lecturer