A High Court judge on Wednesday appeared to sympathise with illicit marijuana growers at a time when Government has opened the door to “legitimate cultivation and trade” even as he told a convicted grower Wednesday to “expect to spend a substantial period” in prison.
While stressing that his comments should not be viewed as either support or opposition to decriminalisation, Justice Carlisle Greaves suggested that the time may well come for the courts to consider how to approach cannabis sentences considering changing attitudes to the drug in Barbados and in the international community.
Justice Greaves made the comment as he imposed a starting 12-year sentence on St George resident Mario Simeon Kenroy McAllister, who cultivated a substantial amount of marijuana back in 2019 when he found himself in “dire” financial straits, for which he apologised to the judge.
But after taking into consideration the aggravating and mitigating factors of the case as well as the time spend on remand, the judge ruled that McAllister will spend five more years in prison.
The judge said: “In today’s world some form of cannabis, when dealing with it, has been either decriminalized or now legitimized. Those who had traditionally have some dealings with this commodity either for religious purposes or for recreational purposes or for mercantile purposes and have paid their penalty over the years by acquiring criminal convictions and enduring incarceration may feel a sense of injustice when they now see those who have not spent any [time] but are now able to benefit through legitimate cultivation and trade while, in many cases because they have the riches with which they can finance the industry while the poor folk are left in the abyss.
“What to do about it is a vexing question that only time will probably remedy. There are those who have campaigned for the legalization of cannabis all these years they may feel a sense of justice comparable for those who did not campaign or pay any penalty as they have.
“My concerns, however, are not to be interpreted to infer that I am supportive of any side. The laws of Barbados are still clear.”
An apologetic McAllister told the judge: “I am very sorry for breaking the laws of the land. I made this ridiculous mistake because financially at that stage things were dire. Through making such a bad decision I brought shame upon my family and also myself. I sincerely apologize to the court and to society.
“In this situation, I learn that prison is very hard. People say that things out there are hard but I must say things in here [prison] are much harder. I will never gamble with my freedom again, to be away from my children and my children mother. I see it as a major setback and loss. In this situation, I know that I will never make this mistake again. I kindly ask that you be lenient.”
But Judge Greaves imposed a starting sentence of 12 years in prison on the father of two during a virtual sitting on the No. 3 Supreme Court. He told McAllister who followed the hearing from HMP Dodds that the laws of the land are clear.
“You cannot cultivate cannabis, possess or trade-in without a licence even if you think it is necessary for you to feed your family,” the judge said.
“If you want it to [do] different then you have the power of the vote and persuasion, to persuade those in authority to change the law but… unless it is changed where you transgress the laws of this country and find yourself convicted for the possession, cultivation and trafficking of cannabis particularly of this quantity you must expect to spend a substantial period of incarceration in Her Majesty’s Prison.”
A one-third discount was then given for McAllister’s guilty plea and the two years he had already spent on remand at Dodds were also credited leaving him with a sentence of six years in prison. After taking in other factors, a further year was shaved off the sentence.
As a result, McAllister will spend five years in prison on charges of possession, having a trafficable quantity and cultivation of 53.2 kilos of cannabis on August 20, 2019. The sentences imposed on each count are to run concurrently.
McAllister was represented by attorney-at-law Shadia Simpson while Acting Senior Crown Counsel Rudolph Burnett prosecuted the case.