By Kara John and Jasmyn Sargeant
Weed. Marijuana. Ganja. Grade. Herb. Cannabis. These are all different names for the main subject of this article. People who partake in the use of cannabis not so recently celebrated 4/20. On this day and other days, the enjoyment of cannabis is undoubtedly impacted by the laws and regulations of a country. Interestingly, on this said day Trinidad and Tobago began to debate the Committee report on the Cannabis Control Bill 2020 in Parliament. One may say that this begins a public acceptance to cannabis use particularly since the same Cannabis Control Bill was recently Assented to on the 17th June, 2022. The law undoubtedly influences the use of Cannabis, thus, it is important to have a general understanding on how the law ‘accepts’ cannabis use. To help in this regard, this article will also consider cannabis laws in Jamaica and Canada as they seem to be popular when speaking of cannabis laws in the Western Hemisphere.
Firstly, it may be necessary to provide definitions for “decriminalise” vs “legalise”. According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, the terms are defined as follows-
Decriminalisation: Where the status of an offence is reclassified from criminal to non-criminal, it would still be prohibited behaviour but no longer considered criminal. eg: a speeding ticket
Legalisation: Where the behaviour or action goes from prohibited to permitted but there may be regulations to control supply. eg: alcohol consumption
Trinidad & Tobago
Due to the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act, 2019, the law in Trinidad and Tobago regarding cannabis changed. Now the use and possession are decriminalised to a certain degree. Sale is still illegal and only possession under thirty grammes (30g) is permitted and cannabis cannot be used in a public place. Seemingly to compensate for the inability to sell, you are allowed to grow up to four (4) cannabis plants. Moreover, possession of any amount of cannabis on a school bus; or in or on any premises where children are present for the purposes of education or attending or participating in any sporting or cultural activity is an offence. Possession of quantities exceeding 30 grammes carries the penalty of a fine versus imprisonment and in the event a person cannot pay the fine, they may be sentenced to community service.
In addition to this Act, the Cannabis Control Act 2020 (currently awaiting proclamation) aims to establish a Cannabis Licensing Authority which would be responsible for issuing licences for dispensaries and the import and export of cannabis. Though it is noteworthy that if a citizen wishes to purchase from a dispensary it must be for medicinal, therapeutic, religious or research purposes. It seems that the recreational use of cannabis still seems heavily regulated under the Act since the only way to get cannabis other than for a prescribed function would be to grow your own plants at home. Notwithstanding this, the 2019 Dangerous Drugs Amendment does provide for the Minster to designate certain public places for the smoking of cannabis, without qualifying a purpose. Perhaps, then there may be some room for recreational public use of cannabis in the future. However, no zones have been designated for public cannabis use.
Furthermore, although the legislative framework limits recreational use, there is express provision that the money generated by the Licensing Authority should be used, amongst other things, for research, training, education public awareness and drug rehabilitation. This section seems to be inspired by its Jamaican counterpart.
The Dangerous Drugs Amendment Act 2015 of the laws of Jamaica decriminalised cannabis so that the possession of two (2) ounces (approximately fifty-six grammes (56g)) is no longer an offence and a household is allowed to grow up to five (5) plants. Possession of quantities in excess of that amount remains an offence. It is punishable by fine and/or imprisonment, or in default of paying the fine, community service may be ordered. The Act also establishes a Cannabis Licensing Authority which is vested with the power of issuing licences for the import, export and dispensary of cannabis. The Act also allows the purchase of cannabis for medicinal, therapeutic, religious and research purposes which therefore means that the intended decriminalisation of Cannabis is not for recreational use.
As stated above, the Jamaican version of the Act provides that a percentage of fees generated through granting licences is to be allocated to the National Council on Drug Abuse, strengthening Jamaica’s mental health services and institutions and funding scientific and medical research into cannabis. Additionally, since the use of cannabis in public spaces remains criminalised, if it is determined that someone convicted of that offence seems to be dependent on the use of cannabis or is under the age of 18, then they will be referred to the National Council on Drug Abuse.
Canada legalised cannabis in October 2018. The Cannabis Act, S.C. 2018, c. 16, Assented to 2018-06-21 (The Cannabis Act of Canada), focuses on protecting youths and regulating the production, sale and distribution of cannabis to help reduce the criminal involvement in same. The Cannabis Act of Canada legalises the possession of up to thirty grammes (30g) of cannabis and the cultivation or possession of up to four (4) cannabis plants. The Cannabis Act of Canada prohibits the use or smoking of cannabis in public places. The Cannabis Act of Canada includes extensive prohibitions and limitations relating to the packaging, labelling, display and advertising of cannabis, among others.
Notably, however, the Cannabis Act of Canada contains provisions for licences and permits relating to the importation, exportation, production, testing, packaging, labelling, sending, delivery, transportation, sale, possession or disposal of cannabis or any class of cannabis. Further, the Cannabis Act of Canada provides a mechanism to authorise the possession, sale and distribution of Cannabis. The Cannabis Act of Canada gives authority to establish a process and standard for authorisation to the provinces throughout the country. Therefore, each province in Canada has its own processes for authorising persons to possess, sell and distribute cannabis. Notwithstanding this, the Cannabis Act still imposes that regardless of the province, only cannabis produced by an authorised person be sold, that cannabis is not sold to young persons, that there be appropriate record-taking of the cannabis possessed by the authorised individual and that measures be taken to prevent cannabis from entering the illegal market.
The brief exposition of the cannabis legislation of these three jurisdictions highlights that Trinidad and Tobago’s legislation is not entirely dissimilar from Jamaica. That is, both Jamaican and Trinidad and Tobago’s cannabis legislation exists primarily to decriminalise cannabis. The main variance between the three is with Canada’s legislation which allows the recreational use of cannabis and its distribution. While the Dangerous Drugs Amendment Act in Trinidad and Tobago does not qualify possession of cannabis for any purpose, it does not explicitly legalise recreational use. The Cannabis Control Bill, among other things, provides for the commercialization, use and distribution of cannabis within specified categories. Notably, none of the categories for the use of cannabis in this bill includes recreational use.
With the decriminalisation of cannabis consumption for religious and medicinal purposes becoming more acceptable worldwide, one wonders; will the recreational use of cannabis ever be decriminalised/legalised in Trinidad and Tobago? Further, should it be decriminalised/legalised?
When discussing the Cannabis Control Bill at Parliament it should be noted that it was mentioned that persons had become familiar with cannabis in casual settings particularly at university within the Caribbean, prior to its decriminalisation. Impliedly these remarks show that persons are aware of the casual and recreational use of cannabis within our society. Yet it seems that our leaders remain hesitant to acknowledge and legislate on this use. This article does not purport to state that cannabis must be legalised for recreational use. However, one wonders if recreational use of cannabis can be curbed entirely in Caribbean society and if and when that aspect may be acknowledged and addressed legislatively.
Cannabis Act, S.C. 2018, c. 16, Assented to 2018-06-21 (https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/c-24.5/page-1.html)
Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act, 2015 (https://www.japarliament.gov.jm/attachments/339_The%20Dangerous%20Drug%20bill%202015.pdf)
Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act, 2019 (http://www.ttparliament.org/legislations/a2019-24.pdf)
Report of the Joint Select Committee on the Cannabis Control Bill, 2020 (http://www.ttparliament.org/reports/p12-s1-J-20210609-CANN-RF.pdf)
Cannabis Control Act, 2022