UNC Senator Wade Mark accused the Government of using a cannabis bill for electioneering, while ignoring the risk of children accessing the plants, which people will be allowed to grow.
He led the Opposition’s reaction to the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2019, piloted by the Attorney General in the Senate on Friday.
Mark said, “The Government is on cheap politics to win an election, but doesn’t care what impact it will have on the country’s children.”
He predicted youngsters heading home from school would pick pieces of cannabis plants. The bill would allow people to grow four plants each.
“Is that what we want for our children?” Mark asked. “This has grave, incalculable consequences.”
He urged licensing of plants grown for personal use, plus regular inspection and monitoring, to avoid TT becoming “a cannabis country.”
He said, “It must not be a free-for-all.”
Saying one plant can produce up to 6,000 grammes of cannabis, Mark warned, “You’ll have people with warehouses of marijuana.”
Mark said decriminalisation differs from full legalisation. He alleged, “What the Government is trying to do through the back door is legalise the smoking of marijuana.”
He said the Opposition supports decriminalisation (not legalisation).
“We have to protect our nation. We have to protect our children.”
Mark cited a public letter from prominent Muslim leaders concerned at the legislation. He urged respect for those religious leaders who opposed making cannabis more visible and prevalent.
Saying cannabis is psychotropic, he said, “It is our view the bill has not considered any aspects of public health and safety.”
Saying the bill had no reference to medical marijuana, he said the AG’s reference to a dead senator’s use of cannabis was “almost hypocritical,” but withdrew the remark.
Mark was disappointed the Lower House had not sent the bill to a joint select committee with the Cannabis Control Bill, which regulates the cannabis business. The bills were inextricably linked, he said.
He sought a clearer definition for a private place (in contrast to the “public place” defined in the bill where cannabis is banned), and “smoke.”
Mark was concerned the bill on decriminalisation actually makes “a drastic increase” in the penalties for those contravening its provisions on possession. The penalty rises from a $25,000 fine to $250,000 (magistrates' court) and from $50,000 to $1 million (High Court.)
He reckoned the bill breached a treaty on narcotics signed by TT and so could incur a warning, as had once happened to Canada, which he said now cannot import or export cannabis. He also feared foreigners would direct the local cannabis business.