Inmates from the Port of Spain Prison successfully won a prison debate contest with their argument for decriminalising marijuana on Thursday in Woodford Square, Port of Spain.
The five-man team of Darryl Wade, Netfa Felix, Ronnie John, Aaron Garcia and Cornelius La Borde meticulously argued not for only decriminalising the drug, but the benefits of cannabis on a medicinal, spiritual and social premise.
They went up against Ryan Ramoutar, Kester Benjamin, Ismael Khan, Pream Badree and Arnold Ramlogan of the Maximum Security Prison in Golden Grove. They chose to back the argument against decriminalisation. Each prisoner got five minutes to make his presentation.
Describing the war against marijuana as a losing battle, Wade gave the introduction, discussing points such as how decriminalisation would free up the prison system by removing the glut of people waiting to be charged for minor posession charges, provide a taxable income, the documented health benefits and spiritual uses.
Ramoutar accused the competition of conflating decriminalising with legalisation. He used the broken-window theory – that small criminal acts can lead to further disorderly behaviour – to show that allowing marijuana to be decriminalised would lead to more crime. He said pregnant women who use marijuana have babies with birth defects; marijuana was a schedule one drug under the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA); and claimed there was insufficient evidence to prove marijuana had medical benefits.
The Maximum Security team tried to use Darryl Baptiste –who was serving a three-month sentence for marijuana possession who was found dead in a Maximum Security Prison cell earlier in November – as an example of the negative effects of the drug.
However, Garcia, from the Port of Spain prison, demanded to see an autopsy report that showed Baptiste died because of weed. He also rebutted that any woman who uses marijuana while pregnant should be locked up.
Garcia placed first among the debaters, with 452 points, and recieved high commendation from the judges. Marijuana activist Nazma Muller coached the Port of Spain inmates.
The debate happened on the eve of Cabinet's discussion of marijuana decriminalisation legislation today.
Minister of National Security Stuart Young said he would be taking careful notes of both sides of the inmates' arguments.Young said he was proud of their work and it was a great example of restorative justice.
"The public always sees the negativity. They see the prison breaks...But there is a lot of good taking place in the prison. They are good people, but made an error. Give them a chance when they come out."
The debate organiser, Newsday columnist Debbie Jacob, called for parliamentarians to debate the inmates.
Young said he could not promise a team of ten, but said he would try his best to assemble a team.