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Sunday 26 January 2020
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Children’s Authority: Don’t mix cannabis and children

Children's Authority chairman Hanif E.A Benjamin. - Marvin Hamilton
Children's Authority chairman Hanif E.A Benjamin. - Marvin Hamilton

CHILDREN'S Authority chairman Hanif Benjamin has said despite recent legislation to decriminalise small amounts of marijuana, the authority will intervene in cases where children are affected by its use.

"You can't go in the bedroom and smoke and think that the smoke will not move. So second-hand smoke is a real thing. So our overall position is, once we have children in the mix, marijuana should not be used. We must understand the psychological, medical and other ramifications to our children."

He was speaking on Monday at a media conference the authority held at Tower D, International Waterfront Centre, Port of Spain.

He stressed that as with alcohol, it remained illegal to give children marijuana, and the law remained the same in terms of protection of children.

Benjamin said that once the authority is called in, for instance if a school reports that a child is behaving in a particular manner, and drug use (whether marijuana or other drugs) is found to be causing a challenge to the child's well-being, the authority will act.

"Even though the decriminalisation of small amounts, where you can smoke in the privacy of your home, was now a thing, that does not negate the fact that the child must be protected."

He said the authority is asking people to understand that marijuana will damage their children's brains.

"Once you are engaged in the use and it is proven that this use has caused challenges, we will act," he reiterated.

Benjamin reported the authority had held an initial meeting with the Association of Psychologists, National Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention Programme (NADAPP), Ministry of Education Student Support Services, police Child Protection Unit, Education Ministry health and family life education unit, Office of the Prime Minister, Association of Psychiatrists, National Family Services, and representatives of the Judiciary on crafting the way forward in terms of education, policy and legislation in relation to the protection of children and the use of marijuana. He added that all stakeholders have spoken of the need to create a robust education programme for children and families.

He said the authority is calling for a strengthening of the laws and will examine all legislation on drug use and children and make recommendations through the line minister to the Attorney General.

"We really don't want people to go away with the idea that this decriminalisation is a free-for-all. There is a level of responsibility under the law, as well as socially. And we want to ensure everyone will follow that."

Authority legal services manager Sharlene Jaggernauth said research from a number of areas has identified marijuana as the second highest substance use prevalent among citizens, and the most prevalent offence amongst 16-18 year-olds was possession of marijuana. She added there was an increase in marijuana use among primary- and secondary-school children according to the National Drug Report for 2017.

She also read from the National Secondary Schools Survey of 2013 by NADAPP, which revealed marijuana attracted the curiosity of 28 per cent of school-age children, which is the highest rate compared to other specific drugs.

"The youngest age of a marijuana user according to the study is five," she said.

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