“JAIL is no place for the marijuana user,” said noted Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal yesterday when asked for her opinion on a recent statement made by Chief Justice Ivor Archie, who suggested marijuana possession be decriminalised.
“One such remedy, he suggested at the opening of the law term on Monday, was the decriminalisation of possession of small amounts of marijuana.”
The Express monitored social media site Facebook yesterday and it appeared that while scores of locals agreed with the Chief Justice’s proposal, they also felt the potential effects of such an amendment to Trinidad and Tobago’s laws needed to be discussed extensively.
Seetahal said, “My position is really that yes, we need to look at how we treat with people who are users as distinct from traffickers, and... I’ve always supported the drug treatment courts to deal with users.”
She said “it is not (for law enforcement) to refrain from charging them, but bring them into a different system, namely a system of treatment rather than the regular justice system”.
Seetahal argued that from her experience as an attorney, marijuana is a “gateway drug” which leads to the use of harder drugs, such as cocaine and heroin.
She said there is an ongoing pilot project at the San Fernando Magistrates’ Court which is meant not to treat a drug user as a criminal, but rather as someone who is unwell.
Seetahal, however, said marijuana use for medicinal purposes can be examined “for people who have AIDS and cancer” for their treatment, as she added that several studies have described marijuana use as helpful for those with chronic pain and loss of appetite.
Criminal defence attorney Wayne Sturge was also asked his opinion. He said, “Too many resources are being deployed on what is a social/medical/addiction issue. Do like the English and issue cautions rather than clog the system with cases and persons who are not harming anyone. When there was prohibition in the 1920s, we had the same problems until alcohol was decriminalised.”
He recalled: “I was at the Siparia Magistrates’ Court yesterday (Monday) and whilst there, 13 out of the 15 charge cases were for possession of extremely small quantities of marijuana. It took approximately seven minutes each case, from the reading of the charge to sentence—a colossal waste of valuable court time.
“It was also obvious that the police chose to arrest all the buyers within a short distance of the pusher’s house, but not the pusher. Decriminalisation will free up the police and increase manpower to do proper investigations to bring the violent offenders to justice.”
Sturge added, “I have never used ganja in my life, but many of my friends do. Whilst I am concerned that it can be a gateway drug which can introduce you to cocaine via smoking “black cigarette”, ganja by itself harms no one except the user (if at all).
He said, “I say decriminalise, but go on an aggressive education drive about drugs in general; but on a lighter note, I have been told by both police and prison officers that prisoners are a lot calmer and manageable when they smoke weed.”