TT has a relatively high amount of drug use – alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine – among its youths,
Independent Senator Paul Richards said on Saturday.
This is one reason why he advocated for rehabilitation as a sentencing option for children, defined as people under the age of 18, and adults addicted to cannabis in the Drug Decriminalisation (Amendment) Bill 2019.
At a briefing on the bill at his office on Friday, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi said there were 14 children at children’s rehabilitation centres within the application of the laws. Al-Rawi praised Richard for ensuring that the bill included the rehabilitation feature. The bill is now law after it was proclaimed by the President on Friday, but it takes effect on Monday.
However, in an interview with Sunday Newsday, Richards said, “It is still illegal for children to use marijuana or to be given marijuana to use unless it’s a medical application. When the Cannabis Control Authority, that bill (the Cannabis Control Bill) has gone to the JSC, is established the medicinal application of marijuana may be given to children under a doctor’s prescription. But that is when that part comes into being. That is not what is coming on Monday.”
He said if a child is found to be smoking marijuana judges would have sentencing options, possibly their parents being brought in to pay a fine, community service, addiction rehabilitation, or the Youth Training Centre.
He noted that children were not supposed to be given access to drugs. Therefore, according to the decriminalisation law, anyone who gives a child marijuana or has it around a child would be charged.
Section 5C says anyone with cannabis “in his possession on a school bus or in or on any premises where children are present for the purposes of education or attending or participating in any sporting or cultural activity” will be liable on summary conviction to a fine of $250,000 and five years imprisonment.
Children’s activist Gregory Sloane-Seale agreed with Richards on the level of drug use among youths saying there was widespread use of psychotropic drugs. Therefore, he said 14 children in rehab, which could also be related to alcohol, was not an alarming number.
“It’s good to know at least that they’re getting some level of support and rehabilitation but 14 is minuscule compared to what may actually exist out there. It’s a much broader issue in terms of how we engage children and add meaning to their lives outside of school and work.”
He added that drug use in youths was a regional and international issue. “In the US and Canada there is a huge opiate problem and the use of psychotropic drugs is huge. Young people feel more and more disconnected, there are more cases of depression and loneliness amongst young people, especially in this social media world we live in... It means that we need to continue to educate people and try to manage the situation as best as we can.”
He said for many youths their cellphones were their best friends. Therefore, adults need to get youths more involved in pro-social activities, and more meaningful engagement in life, on a whole, including various youth clubs, sports, and other organised supervised activities. He also believed they needed to learn life and social skills, which he said the country was not addressing adequately.
He said some NGOs were doing good work with respect to child rights but he was not seeing mass public education on issues such as living a healthy life, making healthy choices, and navigating childhood and adolescence, and the necessary support systems to back up the education.