One member of the Mia Mottley administration is not fully sold on the move to not charge individuals found with 14 grams or less of marijuana.
In fact, Member of Parliament for St Philip North Dr Sonia Browne is concerned about the consequences of the action and she told her parliamentary colleagues on Friday that she believed “a lot” of young people will see the new Bill as permission to use marijuana.
Browne was contributing to the debate on the Drug Abuse Prevention and Control (Amendment) Bill, which makes provision for individuals caught with 14 grams of marijuana or less not to be convicted, but to pay a fixed fine.
“I have issues on ramifications with respect to religion . . . there are ramifications with respect to education, with respect to children and the youth, and society as a whole. It does have ramifications for harming the individual who will be caught with this marijuana,” said Browne.
“Let us not fool ourselves, there are many people who look at this bill as permission to use marijuana whether it be 10 ounces or 10 grams or 14 grams, a lot of people are looking for this Bill as permission to use such.
“I am worried about that phase of how do teachers for one, deal with that. Are we prepared to put counsellors or psychologists in the schools? Are we prepared to put more of these in each and every school because they will be needed,” said Browne.
She said she was also concerned about how parents and those who do not smoke would deal with their children or others smoking the drug around them.
“Is it okay for me as a medical practitioner to take a break from a patient and go and smoke a 10 ounce spill and come right back. Will that be taken as normal? Will that be accepted in my world for instance?” said Browne.
She also raised concerns about Section 6A (3)b which provides for a member of the police force with “reasonable cause for believing that a person is addicted to cannabis” to refer that individual to attend the National Council on Substance Abuse (NCSA) for assessment and counselling.
“The jury is still out on where marijuana addiction starts and ends,” said Browne, adding that a lot of lawyers have been “picking up legislation and finding holes”.
“If I decided to disagree with the police officer and go to court, can a lawyer decide to say ‘did you weigh the marijuana, how do you know the difference between 14 grams and 12 grams. How do you know this accused was addicted to marijuana? What gives the police officer the right to decide ‘I am a psychologist now and you are addicted to marijuana’?
“Are we going to train police officers or are they going to walk with scales. This is my issue, how does a police officer get into the realm of deciding psychologically if an individual is addicted to marijuana. This is one of the issues I see coming up in court,” said Browne, who is known to share opposing views to those of her colleagues on some issues.
Suggesting that more people could become addicted to marijuana use and even get delusional, Browne also questioned the cost benefit analysis to the Psychiatric Hospital, the NCSA and other agencies.
She said there was need for greater education awareness on marijuana use and dangers, adding that she knew of cases where people engaged in self-harm after using the substance.
“You can’t only show the good side of it, the decriminalization of it. With respect to self-harm I think that has to be considered. People are hurting themselves every day with marijuana use,” said Browne, who said Barbados should stay true to its own identity despite what was being accepted globally.
Prime Minister Mia Mottley said the concerns raised by Browne were legitimate but added: “Like most things affecting and related to human behaviour there are issues and there is no perfection because human beings in their own right are not perfect.”
Referring to the decision as a “judgment call”, Mottley said the new Bill will address issues relating to the criminalization of tens of thousands of people in Barbados who have been deprived of opportunities because of convictions for having a small quantity of marijuana.
“There is no doubt this piece of legislation will also have consequences, therefore, for many who already have a conviction for what is otherwise known as a spliff or a very small amount,” said Mottley.
“I think the concerns are legitimate and the fact that we are seeking to stop people from being criminals for possession of a spliff does not mean that we condone its usage by young people. I think we all have a responsibility,” said Mottley.