Being held with small amounts of cannabis will no longer be deemed a criminal act.
As part of efforts to free up police officers to deal with more serious matters as well as the Magistrates’ courts, persons caught with 14 grams of cannabis or less will no longer be arrested and hauled before the law courts, resulting in a criminal record.
Governor General Dame Sandra Mason today revealed that tickets would now instead be issued to the culprits and they would have 30 days to pay a $200 fine.
Persons caught smoking cannabis in public also will not be arrested and detained.
Police will have the option of issuing a ticket to that person who will have 30 days to pay.
She said the ticketing system was already being used successfully in Jamaica and St Vincent.
Dame Sandra said the Drug Abuse (Prevention and Control) Act would be amended to allow for the new changes.
She said too many young people were being convicted and incarcerated over small amounts of the illegal drug.
“A second issue that requires compassion, understanding, empathy and the intervention of my Government, is the conviction and incarceration of scores of young men and some women, causing them to lose their jobs, reputation, opportunity to travel, and to become stigmatized over miniscule quantities of marijuana that on the street would be called “a roach” or “a spliff.” Pursuing these matters is a waste of police and court time.
“A significant amount of the time of our law enforcement officers and of our Magistrates’ Courts is taken up with dealing with individuals with small quantities of cannabis. In 2019, 4,295 drug and drug related criminal charges were laid against accused persons. This represented 30 per cent of the criminal charges laid in that year and were laid against 534 persons,” Dame Sandra said.
“A large number of these cases are minor, but required the deployment of significant police resources in investigating, processing, taking statements and taking the cases through to trial. This process has little or no redemptive value and in human terms, a large number of our young men are forever left with the taint of the drug charges and the possible conviction.”
The Governor General said it was “imperative” to find alterative ways of dealing with young people found with small quantities of cannabis.
Under the new system, a person in possession of half an ounce or less and who is under 18 years, or who is 18 years or older and appears to the police to be dependent on cannabis, will be referred to the National Council on Drug Abuse for counseling, in addition to paying the ticket.
But the Governor General made it clear that the initiative was “not a licence for lawlessness” and that Government was “not trivializing the criminal nature of their conduct”.
And while Government lightened its stance on the possession of illegal drugs, Dame Sandra said it was adopting a zero tolerance approach to gun violence, any other form of violence, sexual offences or corruption.
She said strides had been made in intercepting firearms at ports of entry by replacing barely function scanners and through the use of other initiatives.
She said Government would continue in its effort to encourage more persons to join the police and defence force.