Just before midnight on Wednesday, members of the Trinidad and Tobago House of Representatives voted to approve the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2019, which will decriminalize cannabis on the Caribbean island. During the marathon debate, Faris Al Wari, the country’s Attorney General, said he aims to get the bill through the country’s Senate and into law before the end of the year.
Meanwhile a separate piece of legislation, the Cannabis Control Bill 2019, which would establish licenses for production and sales, was forwarded to a Joint Selection Committee of Parliament, which will report to the Parliament in February 2020.
These first steps toward regulated cannabis in Trinidad and Tobago will have a significant impact on cannabis legislation within the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the regional bloc that governs economic and trade integration across fifteen Caribbean nations and dependencies, according to legal analysts. Trinidad and Tobago is the home of CARICOM’s largest economy, and reform here is likely to speed up the pace at which other countries within the bloc open up cannabis research and other industry opportunities.
(Read Cannabis Wire’s coverage of the bill’s introduction last month here.)
Several key amendments were made to the Bill in the committee stage before its passage in the House. Under the approved version of the bill, a person may possess up to thirty grams of cannabis, or no more than five grams of cannabis resin, without facing a criminal penalty. A person found in possession between thirty and sixty grams, or no more than ten grams of cannabis resin, will be found guilty of a summary offense (similar to a speeding ticket) and face a fixed-penalty fine of approximately $200 USD (a reduced fine from the originally proposed $739 USD). Once the penalty is paid within the stipulated period, authorities will not attempt arrest, conviction, or imprisonment. Failure to pay the fine, however, could result in a maximum fine of $7,390 USD or thirty hours of community service for a first-time offense.
Legislators also added another tier for a fixed penalty fine—between sixty and 100 grams, or 14 grams of cannabis resin. Possession at that amount would come with a fixed penalty fine of up to $11,092 USD. According to Al Wari, the decriminalization of under sixty grams of cannabis and the creation of a fixed penalty proceeding would have a significant impact on the administration of justice in Trinidad and Tobago, where the country’s courts heard 84,668 cases of possession of cannabis between 2007 and 2018, an annual average of more than 8,000 per year.
Amendments were also made to allow citizens to grow four male or female plants at home; a previous version specified four male plants, while it is the female plants that are abundant in cannabinoids like THC. The previous version caused major concern among cannabis advocates, who argued that it limited the production of cannabis flowers and could leave citizens dependant on the illegal market while legislation and rules for regulating the sale and import of cannabis were established.
Language was also added to the bill to allow those currently facing charges for possession of under thirty grams of cannabis to apply to have the charges dropped. Persons who are currently before the court for possession of between thirty to sixty grams or sixty to 100 grams could apply to the court for community service. Previously, the bill only allowed for persons with previous cannabis convictions for possession (of under 100 grams) to apply through their lawyer to have the Commissioner of Police expunge the offense from their criminal record, and to apply for a pardon under Section 87 of Trinidad and Tobago’s Constitution.
What Comes Next?
Before the passage of the bill, members of parliament also approved the establishment of a Joint Select Committee, consisting of members of the House of Representatives and Senate, to examine the Cannabis Control Bill 2019 that will establish the legislative framework for Trinidad and Tobago’s Cannabis Licensing Authority.
The Cannabis Control Bill, which establishes a Trinidad and Tobago Cannabis Authority, would create “several types of licences for medicinal, therapeutic, or scientific purposes, such as Cultivator Licences, Laboratory Licences, Processor Licences, Retail Distributor Licences, Import Licences and Transport Licences. The Authority would also be empowered to issue Cultivator, Dispensary, Import, Export and Transport Licences for religious purposes.”
During the debate, the country’s Minister of Health, Terrence Deyalsingh, who worked as a pharmacist before entering politics, said it was important that additional steps be taken to regulate the use of cannabis for medical and pharmaceutical purposes. Deyalsingh said the Cannabis Control Act would only come into effect when the Ministry is satisfied that medical professionals are sufficiently trained on medical cannabis.
The Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2019 will next face debate and a vote in the country’s Senate. Debate is expected to begin this week, and if an agreement is reached, it would be sent back to the House of Representatives for another vote before heading to the desk of Trinidad and Tobago’s president Paula-Mae Weekes for signing into law.