Sunday 13 October, 2019

US professor: T&T's marijuana policy can be changed 'overnight'

Photo by moustafa ibrahim on Unsplash.

Photo by moustafa ibrahim on Unsplash.

Dr Onwubiko Agozino, Professor of Sociology and Africana Studies at Virginia Tech University, has written to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley calling for policy changes regarding marijuana usage in Trinidad and Tobago.

Dr Agozino, who previously lectured at the University of West Indies (UWI), St Augustine, from 2006-2009, said government has the power to 'change this overnight by instructing the Law Revision Commission to immediately reclassify marijuana as a legal substance'.

He reminded the public that this criminal persecution of marijuana was introduced by colonisers 'without justification'.

"I am writing to share one of the policy implications of the findings that you may wish to consider to help the country and the region to reduce the high rates of violent crime and serve as a shining model to other developing countries and regions.

"Similar policy recommendations have already been published and so you may already be familiar with them but I am using this opportunity to urge you to summon the political will and courage to implement them at little or no cost for the benefit of the people.

Dr Agozino cited statistics released by Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi which showed that marijuana remand prisoners cost the government 75 million dollars annually.

"The government can change this overnight by instructing the Law Revision Commission to immediately reclassify marijuana as a legal substance to be regulated in the same way as tobacco and alcohol which kill lots of people every year while marijuana has never killed anyone."

"If the government is afraid of the electoral consequences of legalization, then call a referendum on the policy and let the people decide. Otherwise, encourage a bipartisan bill to be presented in parliament for legalization. Or encourage citizens to sue the government for the deprivation of liberty and let the courts decide.

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"The more courageous move would be for the Honourable Prime Minister to lead the policy change with an immediate directive to the Law Revision Commission to reclassify marijuana as a legal substance," he said. 

Dr Agozino said other countries have already significantly increased revenue through the decriminalisation and sale of marijuana and cannabis products, and it is time for Trinidad and Tobago to do the same. 

"As you may already know, Jamaica has taken the lead in the region by decriminalizing the medical uses of marijuana. Trinidad and Tobago can afford to take a step further by legalizing it for recreational purposes and regulating it to ensure that underage children are not able to purchase it from licensed dealers contrary to the current situation where anyone can buy from dealers who do not check the age of the buyers.

"The only ones benefiting from keeping marijuana illegal are the drug gangs and they will be forced out of business by legitimate dealers who would be licensed and who would pay taxes on their sales to generate more revenues. Other products could also be manufactured from hemp to help diversify the economy," he said.

Dr Agozino said it is time to remember the phrase 'Massa Day Done'.

"Since the law against marijuana was imposed by colonial officials without justification, it is time for Trinidad and Tobago to echo the mantra of the founding father, Dr. Eric Williams, by telling the people that Massa Day Done so that law abiding adults can use their freedom to decide what to consume without posing a threat to themselves or to others in a democratic society," he said. 

Dr Agozino, who was a Professor of Sociology at the UWI from 2006-09, took part in a Trinidad and Tobago researcher-initiated grant to study ‘Causes of Crime in the Country, the Region and Globally’.

The major activities were mentoring junior researchers, the formation of the Caribbean Criminology Network across the three campuses of UWI, and the hosting of an international conference on the theme of Developing a Caribbean Criminology.

The Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs is holding a public consultation on the decriminalisation of marijuana at the National Academy for the Performing Arts (NAPA), Port of Spain, on January 23, 2018. 

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