Saturday, December 16, 2017

On freeing up ganja,  T&T’s watching brief

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Mark Fraser

 Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar returned from this month’s Caricom heads’ meeting with a mandate to promote two causes little debated and maybe less understood by the general Trinidad and Tobago population. As reported in their communiqué, the heads agreed on a regional commission to “conduct a rigorous enquiry into the social, economic, health and legal issues surrounding marijuana use”. The commission, presumably comprising experts, is meant to advise on changes likely to make the drug legally accessible for specified users.

The other exercise to which T&T formally signed on entails re-examining programmes by which foreigners pay for citizenship in various regional states. This country is at best only dimly aware of the existence and operation of such citizenship programmes, but is no doubt due to hear more on this later.

While the T&T law on marijuana possession and use, remains unbendingly disposed toward prohibition, developments elsewhere in the world have moved toward liberalisation and progressive regulation. Following the Caricom lead, T&T has endorsed at least a study exploring prospects for legalisation of the drug that has long figured in local and transnational crime. 

The summit thus sought to bring the Caricom region into an international movement favouring wider  readiness to try new approaches for controlling the use and abuse of the home-grown narcotic. With Uruguay in Latin America and the state of Colorado in the US forming the vanguard of decriminalisation, the world has been watching, from various angles.

The regional commission exercise should provide the basis for rethinking the T&T experience with ganja. Once marked by free-for-all use among indentured immigrants, stepped-up legislated regulation in the late 19th century led to ever-sterner controls, and ultimately to outright prohibition. The opportunity thus presented allows both for public education about marijuana and consideration of how it could be regulated rather than, as now, totally criminalised. In this, T&T will be playing catch-up with Jamaica. The Portia Simpson-Miller administration has declared itself in favour of legalising possession of up to two ounces, or 57 grams, of marijuana. By September, according to reports on the Kingston government’s schedule, marijuana use should also be freed up for religious, medicinal and scientific purposes.

Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar took part in the heads’ Antigua discussions that resolved in favour of in-depth study. It is for her administration now to take the lead in engaging the T&T public in discussions with far-reaching, if not futuristic, policy concerns. 

With respect to the Caricom “citizenship by investment”, T&T citizenship should never be for sale. But to the extent that holders of paid-for Caricom citizenships may enjoy privileged entry into T&T, this country stands to be affected. Especially so, in relation to money laundering and other criminal possibilities, that may be end up being facilitated by dubious Caricom passport holders.