THE PROCESS to “free up the people” as part of the government’s push to “liberate the herb” has started. A High Court judge has granted the Attorney General three administrative orders which will speed up the process to grant pardons to those who are convicted of less than a 100 grammes of marijuana and ten grammes of cannabis resin.
In keeping with promises made to operationalise amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act, which decriminalised certain quantities of marijuana, AG Faris Al-Rawi on Monday filed the application in the Port of Spain High Court, in the public’s interest, so that the process of pardon can begin.
A court’s order is necessary to give effect to the pardon, however Justice Norton Jack has expressed his concerns of a declaration sought which would have him declare that those affected are “entitled” to apply to the President for the pardon once the offence was expunged from their record.
He has adjourned that one issue to be dealt with on Friday.
The orders that Jack did grant will allow for the AG, or his representatives, to be provided with copies of all files and records in the custody of the Supreme Court registrar and the Commissioners of Police and Prison, of those who are either awaiting trial, who are on bail or remand and those convicted for being in possession of no more than 100 grammes of cannabis or no more than 14 grammes of cannabis resin under section 5 of the Dangerous Drugs Act.
Al-Rawi and Minister in the Ministry of the Attorney General Fitzgerald Hinds were both in court for the hearing.
Fyard Hosein SC, who leads the team of attorneys for the AG, explained to the judge why the information being asked for was necessary to give effect to the new laws proclaimed on Friday by President Paula-Mae Weekes and which came into effect at midnight on Monday.
He said there was a need for a definitive list of people who were beneficiaries of the legislation since the State suspected that the preliminary information it had in its possession was not absolutely accurate.
Hosein also added that it was important that someone served as the central hub to collate the information expeditiously.
“If we don’t it will end up with a bottle neck in the system and will affect the liberty of persons.”
He also said the action taken by the AG was to avoid the potential proliferation of litigation, save the courts time and costs.
“You’re pushing on an open door,” the judge said, but of particular concern to him was the children who are in the system and what is to happen to them. Hosein said this process would facilitate their release.
Hosein also said the law does not provide for the mass pardon of people who benefited from the new law, and the process must be individualised.
Once the information is received – which could be as early as Friday according to attorney John Heath, for the registrar – the next step would be the for the Police Commissioner to remove those people from the national fingerprint database and for their criminal records to be erased, in accordance with sections 5 and 5D of the amended act.
“It is not a short-cut,” Hosein assured, but a legitimate route to the ultimate destination of pardon for those who benefited from the new law.
Attorney for both commissioners, Netram Kowlessar, said his clients agreed with the proposed action.
Preliminary figures presented to the court suggest that up until the time when the act came into effect on Monday, there were approximately 70 inmates convicted in the magisterial courts for having small quantities of marijuana.
There are 12 inmates who are serving sentences, and some 17 inmates remanded in prison who will be eligible for discharge. At the Children’s Court, there were 128 matters filed there. These figures include both males and females.
Also representing the AG were attorney Ravi Rajcoomar and Kadine Matthew.