Trinidad and Tobago set to expunge criminal records as part of new cannabis laws

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While Trinidad and Tobago gets on with how best to regulate the production, distribution and consumption of cannabis, the outcome for 505 people who were caught with small amounts of cannabis is now clear. The country is wiping the slate clean.

The expungement process is part of the overhaul of the country’s cannabis regulations that began last year when the island nation’s attorney general, Faris Al-Rawi, introduced two bills to the House of Representatives — The Cannabis Control Bill and The Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Bill.

The new legislation will reshape how the country regulates the production, distribution and consumption of the drug, and help the Caribbean’s largest economy save vast amounts of money on enforcement efforts, the Cannabis Wire reported.

The Dangerous Drugs Bill allows a person to possess up to 30 grams of marijuana flower or five g of resin without criminal repercussions. For amounts between 30 and 60 g of flower or five and 10 g of resin, offenders would be fined US$739.

If the fee is paid within the required period, no more enforcement would follow. Failure to pay could result in a much larger fine and community service.

According to Trinidad and Tobago Newsday, Justice Norton Jack said people who qualify should be informed ahead of their court appearance. “Those 505 people, when their matters come up, they need to know to ask the court for a discharge, once that is the only matter they have before the court,” Jack said. “Parliament’s intent is very clear.”

“We don’t want people in custody awaiting a trial where they can benefit.”

Jack said he was particularly concerned that those currently sitting in jail benefit from changes to the law. “We don’t want people in custody awaiting a trial where they can benefit. Once we are sure, we can assist with revisiting of the bail conditions so that they aren’t in custody,” the judge said.

The positive implications of the changes to enforcement began to take effect on Dec. 27 when two Tobago minors, who had been held on simple possession charges since September, had their bail reduced and were allowed to leave custody after paying the fee. They were returned to Tobago and informed they can apply to have their case discharged when it comes up.

Jamaica became the first Caribbean country to decriminalize cannabis in 2015 and the first to allow a medical marijuana industry to develop in 2018. Since then, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Antigua and Barbuda have decriminalized the drug and allowed it to be used for medical purposes.

“The benefits of cannabis are now incontestable, and the deep wrongs that have been done to many, especially the marginalized and poor, because of the demonization of this plant, without scientific evidence, must cease,” said Rose-Marie Belle An­toine, chair of the Caribbean Community Re­gion­al Com­mis­sion on Mar­i­jua­na.

“The Caribbean must now work together with like-minded states to modify the treaties that perpetuate this injustice.”

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