Judge urges clarity, public education on new ganja law

Marijuana plants -
Marijuana plants -

TWO men who have benefited from the decriminalisation of small amounts of marijuana have been granted reduced bail so that they can come out of prison.

They can now go before a magistrate to have their matters discharged when their cases come up for hearing.

Meanwhile, those who have been convicted for being in possession of less than 60 grammes have been advised to appeal their convictions while some 699 people can have their charges dismissed and their records expunged.

At the final hearing of the State’s application to facilitate the process of granting pardons to those who would benefit from the amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act, Justice Norton Jack on Tuesday said he intends to provide guidelines to judicial officers, the police and the prison service now that the matter has come to an end.

Jack had granted the State several declarations in its application filed in the public’s interest to give effect to the recent amendments, which became law on December 23.

The two men who were each granted $500 bail were Kenrick Sylvester, for 12.1 grammes and Brian Prince, for 50.3 grammes.

Neither man could access bail and remained on remand and were the only two who were incarcerated after being charged with possession of small amounts of marijuana. The some 699 identified as beneficiaries of the new law are out on bail and they can apply to the magistrate hearing their cases to have their matters discharged.

Those convicted can either appeal or apply for a presidential pardon. The former would be the easier, shorter route, Senior Counsel Fyard Hosein suggested after attorney Yves Jacques Nicholson told the court his client convicted last year for two years’ for under 60 grammes was “very distressed” because he was still in jail although there was a change to the marijuana laws.

“He was not aware of the process and should have been made aware of what steps he has to take,” Nicholson told the judge.

In response, Jack acknowledged that the process was different for those who were still awaiting trial and those already convicted, and suggested that the authorities educate and contact those would stood to benefit and let them know the avenues available to them to have their cases discharged and their records expunged.

“While it has been made clear under the Act, It needs to be articulated. There may be others but how do they approach that?”

Jack will provide guidelines in his written ruling, but urged the authorities to also do so. “The process should be articulated with clarity,” he said.

He was also asked by Hosein, who represents the Attorney General, to provide guidelines to judicial officers since someone was remanded on Monday, for being in possession of 7.4 grammes of marijuana.

Seemingly surprised by this, Jack asked, “We cannot continue like this. Parliament has enacted legislation. How could it be, even if someone was charged prior to the Act coming in force?

“I propose to provide guidance but that does not take away from the Ministry of National Security putting things in place to expedite the process,” he said. Jack also suggested that the Prison Commissioner do an inventory of those convicted and serving time and made aware of their options since “time is of essence for them.”

“This is a process that still has to be clearly articulated so that everyone can know what to do,” he said.

Hosein also suggested that magistrates familiarise themselves with the legislation. In providing the latest update to the judge, Hosein said the 699 eligible to have their cases struck out did not include those who would have already applied to have their matters struck out and that figure could be larger since they did not yet have those for the Port of Spain district.

Attorney Netram Kowlessar, who represents the Commissioner of Police, said while he was unable to say if systems were in place for people to apply for their fingerprints and criminal records to be wiped clean, he was also not aware of any such application being made to the commissioner.

So far, the judge, who previously said he was concerned about those beneficiaries in jail awaiting trial because they were unable to access bail, facilitated the release of two Tobago minors on bail.

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 provisions of the amended legislation.

In justifying the decriminlisation, AG Faris Al-Rawi in November cited the huge costs to State for small amounts of the drug and the effect a conviction had on "someone who was young and foolish."

The AG said decriminalisation will free up law courts to deal with more serious criminal cases.

Also representing the AG were attorneys Ravi Rajcoomar and Kadine Matthew, while attorney John Heath appeared for the Registrar of the Supreme Court.


"Judge urges clarity, public education on new ganja law"

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