OVER 500 people charged with possession of small amounts of marijuana can seek to have their cases discharged when they come up in the magistrates’ court.
The figure of 505 people was identified at a hearing of the State’s application to speed up the process to pardon those who would benefit from the amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act.
The amendments decriminalised certain quantities of marijuana and on December 23, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi filed an application in the public’s interest.
Hearing the application, at the Port of Spain High Court, is Justice Norton Jack, who suggested that those people who stood to benefit should be made aware that when their matters come up in the magistrates’ courts, they can seek to have them discharged.
“We are all on the same page,” he told attorneys, who earlier told him that some 505 people, on bail for possession of 60 grammes or less were identified during the data-collection exercise going on since the application was filed last month., They are eligible for a discharge under section 5(1) of the act,
The Registrar of the Supreme Court and the prison service provided the information to the court .
Jack said, “Those 505 people, when their matters come up, they need to know to ask the court for a discharge, once that is the only matter they have before the court. Parliament’s intent is very clear.”
Those who were convicted can apply to have their records expunged.
Jack said his “specific concern” was with those who are remanded in prison who should benefit from the new law “so that they can be put on bail and then can apply for a discharge.”
“We don’t want people in custody awaiting a trial where they can benefit. Once we are sure, we can assist with revisiting of the bail conditions so that they aren’t in custody,” the judge said. He also stressed that it was important that all the parties were “absolutely confident” of the information, since the court did not want people who did not fall within the categories of the new law to slip through.
So far, the State has the numbers of people charged with small amounts of marijuana from all but three of the nine magisterial districts. The numbers from Port of Spain, Chaguanas and Mayaro are still outstanding.
Jack was also told that the prison service identified 11 people on remand, with one at the Youth Training Centre. However, he was told the State needed to verify if these 12 had other charges against them.
“We are trying to cross-reference the data we receive from the prison with the district courts,” Senior Counsel Fyard Hosein, who represents the AG, told the judge.
Jack has given the parties additional time to verify who is in custody and confirm the charges against them to determine if they are beneficiaries of the decriminalisation of marijuana.
The matter comes up again on January 14.
On December 27, two Tobago minors were the first to benefit from the new law. The two, who had both been remanded in Trinidad since September on simple marijuana possession charges, were released on $500 bail as ordered by Jack.
Jack chose not to discharge the boys, but instead reduced their bail and ordered that they be immediately taken to Tobago. In agreeing to grant the reduced bail sum, the judge said the two, when their matters come back up in court, can apply to have their matters discharged, in keeping with the amended legislation.
Also representing the AG are attorneys Ravi Rajcoomar and Kadine Matthew. Aattorney Netram Kowlessar appears for the commissioners of police and prisons. Attorney John Heath appears for the registrar.