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It is time to decriminalise ganja

In the recent US presidential elections, two states, Colorado and Washington, voted to legalise marijuana. Persons 21 and over can now purchase up to one ounce of pot for recreational use at specially regulated stores. Adults are also permitted to grow up to six marijuana plants in their homes. Massachusetts voted to approve the medical use of marijuana, joining sixteen other states that have already legalised medical marijuana.

According to federal law, it is still considered a criminal act to be in possession of marijuana; but there is widespread support throughout the United States for decriminalisation, that is, the removal of criminal penalties for small amounts of marijuana.

Last year, Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Barney Frank (D- Massachusetts) introduced the first-ever federal legalisation bill in Congress. Entitled the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2011, it would have amended the Controlled Substances Act of 1937, removing marijuana from the Schedule I category which defines it as dangerous, and placing it in the less-restrictive Schedule III category.

In T&T, like in the USA, prohibition has failed and we too must seriously consider the decriminalisation of marijuana for recreational and medical use. Our courts are needlessly clogged with innumerable cases of simple possession of a joint. And in one instance, an individual lost his life at the hands of the police for being in possession of a marijuana cigarette. I refer to the extrajudicial killing of Atiba Duncan in April of this year.

To quote the Express of Friday April 6, 2012 : "Another man said he was standing next to Atiba when the police attacked him. 'Me and Atiba was liming near Rivas Supermarket and we had ah lil weed. Someone say the police coming. Atiba dropped the marijuana cigarette on the road. One of the police officers, a woman, came out of the vehicle and picked up the weed. A male officer tried to grab Atiba and they ended up fighting. Atiba managed to wrench himself free, leaving the  officer with his ripped-off T-shirt. The female police officer walked over to a ledge where Atiba had gone and opened fire using a sub-machine gun'."

Atiba Duncan lost his life for "ah lil weed". He was shot in the back in his attempt to avoid arrest for possessing a marijuana cigarette. This is unacceptable. This is outrageous. It demonstrates absolute contempt for the sanctity of human life; utter disregard for the dignity and worth of the individual person. But he is not the only person who has lost his life at the hands of the police because of marijuana.

Just two weeks ago on October 26 at Charuma Village, Biche, Nigel Jones was fatally shot while running away from two police officers. He was sighted with a bag around his neck from a passing police vehicle which immediately stopped mere metres from his home. Why did the officers jump out with such haste and began chasing after Jones? What crime did he commit? Did he have a criminal record? Was there an outstanding warrant for his arrest? The Rio Claro police have kept their silence. Likewise the Biche police. Biche is well-known as marijuana country. Therefore one can come to only one conclusion. The officers chased after Jones because they believed he had marijuana in his bag.

Atiba lost his life because of marijuana possession. It is my conviction that the police merely suspected that Jones had marijuana in his possession. I am convinced that if he did not have a bag around his neck that fateful day, he would be alive today. If only to prevent the recurrence of such tragedies, we in T&T must decriminalise the possession of insignificant quantities marijuana. I am not calling for its legalisation; only its decriminalisation.

Ishmael Samad

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