He is neither for nor against the decriminalization of marijuana, but attorney-at-law Wilfred Abrahams believes the time has come for the country to have a serious conversation on the issue.
Abrahams’ position came after his client, 23-year-old Shaquille Curtly-Ryan Callender, was ordered to perform 200 hours of community service for possession, intent to supply, trafficking and importation of cannabis.
“Two hundred hours is a lot, but I do believe that he needs to feel the consequences of his actions. I think after this entire ordeal he understands now the seriousness of this,” Abrahams told the District ‘A’ Magistrates’ Court, presided over by Magistrate Douglas Frederick Tuesday afternoon.
On the outside on the courtroom Abrahams, the Opposition Barbados Labour Party candidate for Christ Church East, told Barbados TODAY the approach of Barbadians had changed in recent times on the use of the illegal substance.
“In respects of marijuana, there is not that generalized stigma to marijuana use as there was before, and, at some point in time, we as a country are going to have to sit down and have a difficult conversation about the way forward with this. Too many of our young men are falling victim to marijuana and the stigma attached to it,” he told Barbados TODAY.
Recently, Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite contended that the conversation on marijuana use ought to move away from decriminalization. He said more focus should be placed on persuading the nation’s youth not to abuse drugs.
However, Brathwaite’s colleague, Minister of Education Ronald Jones threw his support behind the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana.
However, Abrahams said today: “My firm position is that people should obey the law. The laws are there and until such time as the law is changed then Barbadians should uphold the law and, as it stands, cannabis and the possession of cannabis is still illegal and the young people who use it, need to understand that, and that they do so at their own risk.”
He acknowledged that in recent times, media reports on the sentences handed down to persons found in possession of illegal drugs have garnered much public debate, however Abrahams made it clear that the public needed to “weigh things . . . and be fair to the magistrates and judges”.
He argued that court officials were charged with upholding the law and had to use their discretion when imposing sentences.
The outspoken attorney pointed out that in most cases, judicial officials usually reprimanded and discharged first time offenders on such charges.
“But if you keep re-offending and are brought before the courts then the magistrate’s hand becomes almost tied because at some point in time they have to deal with you or they will have to answer to somebody else as to why they are not upholding the law.
“So the magistrates have to operate within the law as it is. People need to operate within the law,” Abrahams stressed.
A senior judicial official, speaking on condition of anonymity, also told Barbados TODAY that after the “golden handshake” was given under the Penal Reform Act with respect to first time offenders, a magistrate had no choice but to intervene in a bid to help repeat offenders.
“Being found in possession presents a good opportunity for intervention in people’s lives because they are heading into deviance. They start small, move to bigger quantities and then graduate into harder stuff, namely cocaine,” the official said, pointing to a trend involving young people who appeared before the courts.
It is a situation, which Abrahams said, called for a strong stance.
“As it is now. . . let’s have the conversation. If Barbados comes down in favour of not legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana then so be it. We know the direction we are going.
“If it comes down in favour of it, the voice of the people must be heard on this. It is too important a matter. It is attracting too much attention and it is too much being discussed for any Government to ignore that the discussion has to be had,” Abrahams told Barbados TODAY.