Wednesday, March 15, 2017
The Office of the Honourable Prime Minister of TT
The Office of the Honourable Attorney General
The Office of Law Revision Commission
Dear Honourable Dr. Rowley,
AN OPEN LETTER ON POLICY CHANGE
I wish to commend your government for maintaining the status of Trinidad and Tobago as a High Human Development Index country, along with most Caribbean countries, according to the annual ranking of the UNNDP. I hope that you will increase the rate of development, say in the area of gender equality, to help TT to join the Very High Human Development Index countries soon. I also hope that you will share your secrets to success with African countries that continue to hug the Low Human Development Index ranks with a few exceptions.
I worked at UWI St. Augustine from 2006 to 2009 as a Professor of Sociology. During that time, I was fortunate to receive a government of Trinidad and Tobago researcher-initiated grant to study the ‘Causes of Crime in the Country, the Region and Globally’. The major activities were mentoring junior researchers, the formation of the Caribbean Criminology Network across the three campuses of UWI, and the hosting of an international conference on the theme of Developing a Caribbean Criminology.
I am writing to share one of the policy implications of the findings that you may wish to consider to help the country and the region to reduce the high rates of violent crime and serve as a shining model to other developing countries and regions. Similar policy recommendations have already been published and so you may already be familiar with them but I am using this opportunity to urge you to summon the political will and courage to implement them at little or no cost for the benefit of the people.
In April 2016 The Honourable Faris Al-Rawi, the Attorney General of TT, told The Guardian Newspaper that in Trinidad and Tobago, “A remand cell has nine people in it, four of whom are in for charges of murder and the rest there for possession of two joints of marijuana. They share the cell for two and three years and then you have to ask yourself if you are encouraging recidivism or criminality by association.”
From the statistics that he cited, it can be estimated that marijuana remand prisoners cost the government 75 million dollars annually for remand prisoners alone. Given that criminologists have for a long time validated the theory of differential association by Edwin Sutherland according to whom criminality is learned through association with other criminals, the detention of nonviolent drug users and other petty offenders with violent offenders could only lead to the petty offenders becoming more violent when released.
The government can change this overnight by instructing the Law Revision Commission to immediately reclassify marijuana as a legal substance to be regulated in the same way as tobacco and alcohol which kill lots of people every year while marijuana has never killed anyone.
We educators can be relied upon to teach young people to say no to all drugs and when they suffer any adverse effects, the hospitals will help to reduce the harm without involving the criminal justice system as is the case with the much more dangerous tobacco and alcohol.
Besides, doctors are willing to recommend marijuana for medicinal uses to patients and so the government should allow this option to be exercised legally instead of forcing patients to patronize drug gangs. Raffique Shah wrote a passionate plea in The Express of March 13, 2017 seeking permission to be allowed to use cannabis oil to treat his Parkinson’s disease.
As you may already know, Jamaica has taken the lead in the region by decriminalizing the medical uses of marijuana. Trinidad and Tobago can afford to take a step further by legalizing it for recreational purposes and regulating it to ensure that underage children are not able to purchase it from licensed dealers contrary to the current situation where anyone can buy from dealers who do not check the age of the buyers.
The only ones benefiting from keeping marijuana illegal are the drug gangs and they will be forced out of business by legitimate dealers who would be licensed and who would pay taxes on their sales to generate more revenues. Other products could also be manufactured from hemp to help diversify the economy.
The government will also save money from ending unnecessary prosecutions by directing police officers to cease and desist from going after non-violent marijuana users. This move will earn police officers more respect and love in the community and they may no longer be called Babylon. Instead, more ladies will wine on them during carnival.
This policy has bipartisan support with Mr. Basdeo Panday once expressing his support for re-legalization since he remembered when sugar cane field workers were paid part of their wages with marijuana during the colonial days. Dr. Peter Hanoomansingh supports this with evidence from his doctoral dissertation in History.
Internationally, South Africa and Israel have decriminalized medical marijuana this year with huge business potentials, the Italian army is authorized to grow medical marijuana and supply to hospitals, eight states and the District of Columbia in the US have voted to legalize it for recreational uses and 26 states have authorized the use of medical marijuana, Portugal has decriminalized all drugs since 1997 and The Netherlands has been experimenting with legalized marijuana sales in coffee shops since 1976. Uruguay recently legalized marijuana for recreational uses.
If the government is afraid of the electoral consequences of legalization, then call a referendum on the policy and let the people decide. Otherwise, encourage a bipartisan bill to be presented in parliament for legalization. Or encourage citizens to sue the government for the deprivation of liberty and let the courts decide. The more courageous move would be for the Honourable Prime Minister to lead the policy change with an immediate directive to the Law Revision Commission to reclassify marijuana as a legal substance.
Since the law against marijuana was imposed by colonial officials without justification, it is time for Trinidad and Tobago to echo the mantra of the founding father, Dr. Eric Williams, by telling the people that Massa Day Done so that law abiding adults can use their freedom to decide what to consume without posing a threat to themselves or to others in a democratic society.
Dr. Onwubiko Agozino
Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies
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