Hinds: Drug turf wars may end if ganja legal

The de­crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion of mar­i­jua­na is ex­pect­ed to in­crease com­pe­ti­tion and dri­ve down prod­uct prices, Min­is­ter in the Min­istry of the At­tor­ney Gen­er­al and Le­gal Af­fairs Fitzger­ald Hinds says but he can­not pre­dict whether this will in­crease turf wars. 

Asked about the sce­nario where es­tab­lished drugs deal­ers could at­tack new and de­vel­op­ing mar­i­jua­na busi­ness­es, he said that while it was a pos­si­bil­i­ty, a de­crim­i­nalised en­vi­ron­ment may al­so end drug turf wars.

He was speak­ing to re­porters at the San Fer­nan­do City Hall au­di­to­ri­um fol­low­ing the fourth of five pub­lic con­sul­ta­tions on the de­crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion of mar­i­jua­na. Hinds said that the process re­mains on sched­ule and that work on re­lat­ing leg­is­la­tion will be­gin at the end of June.

“Those I con­sid­er as mat­ters of gen­er­al na­tion­al se­cu­ri­ty. We have to con­tin­ue in Trinidad and To­ba­go, dri­ven, of course by the State, to pro­vide a blan­ket of pro­tec­tion for all of the cit­i­zens here, whether they are in busi­ness or not or whether which busi­ness they are in,” Hinds said.

Ac­cord­ing to Hinds, the de­crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion would mean amend­ments to the Pro­ceeds of Crime Act, the Chil­dren’s Act, the Dan­ger­ous Drugs Act and the Cus­toms Act. Dur­ing the con­sul­ta­tion, cannabis ex­pert Dr Mar­cus Ramkissoon said that be­cause mar­i­jua­na is an il­le­gal drug, the price is high. This leads to peo­ple risk­ing prison-time by grow­ing the plant. If it was le­gal, he said the prices would go down be­cause more peo­ple could plant, in­creas­ing the sup­ply, pos­si­bly more than the de­mand. He said it was the rea­son why good reg­u­la­tions would be im­por­tant.

Ramkissoon, who has draft­ed reg­u­la­tions for mar­i­jua­na in An­tigua and Bar­bu­da is work­ing with the gov­ern­ment on leg­is­la­tion. Dur­ing the con­sul­ta­tions, mem­bers of the Rasta­far­i­an move­ments lament­ed that mar­i­jua­na was part of their faith and is used as med­i­cine. How­ev­er, they are la­belled crim­i­nals for ob­serv­ing their re­li­gion and be­liefs. Even a Hin­du devo­tee ex­pressed his de­sire for changes in the amend­ment as the mar­i­jua­na leaves are used for prayers.

There have been calls for the crim­i­nal records for those charged for mar­i­jua­na pos­ses­sion to have the con­vic­tions ex­punged. How­ev­er, Hinds said that a le­gal lim­it for pos­ses­sion has to be es­tab­lished first be­fore such con­sid­er­a­tion could be giv­en.

“That is a mat­ter that has been con­stant­ly raised by peo­ple in these con­sul­ta­tions, par­tic­u­lar­ly the Rasta­far­i­an com­mu­ni­ty, who feel they have been tar­get­ed over the years and prop­er­ly so in my own view. We will not be set­tled to de­ter­mine that ques­tion now un­til, for an ex­am­ple, we de­ter­mine how much we will per­mit as a le­gal amount.

The con­sul­ta­tion was an emo­tion­al fo­rum for mem­bers of the Rasta­far­i­an move­ment, who called for a “slice of the pie” if and when de­crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion hap­pens.

Priest Im­s­ley of Zion, from the Eabic (Bobo Shan­ti), was wary that large cor­po­ra­tions would in­vest heav­i­ly in the mar­i­jua­na in­dus­try and the “small man” will not be able to ben­e­fit. This was of con­cern as in oth­er coun­tries where li­cens­es are grant­ed to pro­duce mar­i­jua­na, the reg­u­la­tor's price is hefty. Im­s­ley in­quired whether cours­es would be avail­able for his move­ment to help get them ready for the in­dus­try.

Ramkissoon said that in T&T, there is a free cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem, mean­ing that peo­ple were free to en­gage in any busi­ness they de­sire us­ing le­gal sub­stances. He ques­tioned mem­bers as to whether they would be able to form co­op­er­a­tives that could gath­er enough funds and busi­ness acu­men to tack­le the in­dus­try.

The next con­sul­ta­tion takes place next Wednes­day at the Han­sraj Sumairs­ingh Mul­ti-Pur­pose Com­plex, in Rio Claro.

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