Government will soon be amending the Drug Abuse (Prevention And Control Act) to allow for persons arrested for possession of 14 grammes or half an ounce or less of cannabis to be ticketed, instead of appearing in the Magistrates’ Court.
Governor General Dame Sandra Mason spoke of this change while delivering the Throne Speech at the Opening of the Second Session of Parliament, held at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre on Tuesday.
Dame Sandra pointed out that the possession would still be unlawful and punishable, but there would be a new approach to how the offender is treated.
The Governor General noted that a referendum on the recreational use of marijuana had been promised and it was Government’s intention to honour that promise.
Dame Sandra stated: “The police may issue a ticket to a person in possession of half an ounce or less of cannabis, similar to a traffic ticket, and the person has 30 days to pay a fine of $200.00. The ticket will be called a ‘fixed penalty notice’.”
She continued: “A person in possession of half an ounce or less and who is under 18 years, or who is 18 years or older and appears to the police to be dependent on cannabis, will be referred to the National Council on Drug Abuse for counselling, in addition to paying the ticket. A person who smokes cannabis in public will not be arrested or detained. The Police may issue a ticket to that person, who will have 30 days to pay the ticket. It will be an offence to fail to pay a ticket for smoking in public or for possession of half an ounce or more. The offender is required to attend Magistrates Court and may be ordered to do community service or pay a fine of $1,000. A conviction for failing to pay a ticket will form part of the offender’s criminal record.”
The Governor General acknowledged that the personal use of marijuana was one that required compassion, understanding, empathy and the intervention of Government.
She said it has led to the conviction and incarceration of scores of young people that resulted in the loss of their jobs, reputation, opportunity to travel, and subjected to stigma over “miniscule quantities of marijuana” that on the street would be called “a roach” or “a spliff”. Dame Sandra noted that pursuing these matters is a waste of the police and the court’s time.
She stated that a significant amount of the time is taken up by police officers and in the Magistrates’ Courts, in dealing with individuals with small quantities of cannabis.
Citing statistics, the Governor General said in 2019, 4,295 drug and drug-related criminal charges were laid against accused people, which represent 30 per cent of the criminal charges laid against 534 people.
Dame Sandra added: “A large number of these cases are minor, but required the deployment of significant police resources in investigating, processing, taking statements and taking the cases through to trial. This process has little or no redemptive value, and in human terms a large number of our young men are forever left with the taint of the drug charges and the possible conviction.
It is imperative that we take immediate steps to find an alternative way of dealing with our young men and women who are found with small quantities of cannabis, so that they are educated about, and treated for their drug use, while at the same time, not trivialising the criminal nature of their conduct.”
The Governor General cautioned that the proposed changes to the law were not a licence for lawlessness, and Government was cognisant of the link between serious drugs and crime, as well as the international trends and the social realities of Barbados.