Trinidad and Tobago to Decriminalise Cannabis, Consider Legalisation

As cannabis reform sweeps the Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago has announced it will hold public consultations on the matter, prior to decriminalising the drug for personal use in June 2019.

In late December, Prime Minister Keith Rowley announced that cannabis would be decriminalised across the Caribbean nation by mid-2019, but that the government had no plans to legalise the drug.

“We expect that by May to June of 2019, the decriminalisation would have been effected", he told journalists. “There is a big difference between decriminalisation and legalisation of marijuana. We have committed to decriminalisation. What we are working on now is the method by which and what that represents in terms of the use”.

However, a recent statement from the Attorney General hinted that legalisation may indeed be on the cards, as authorities consult with public stakeholders to configure the most appropriate form of cannabis reform.

On January 11, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi said his office would host a series of upcoming consultations with professionals, medical professionals, and students to ascertain how to end cannabis prohibition in the country. Speaking to regional publication Newsday, he said:

“Whilst there may be advantages for [cannabis] use on the medicinal side and whilst there is a certain degree of advocacy for legalisation, we believe we ought to hear from the stakeholder consultations, what the pros and cons of societal stakeholder feedback looks like and then move ourselves into an informed decision.”

National discussions concerning cannabis reform in the Caribbean were invigorated in August 2018, after the publishing of a report by the influential Caribbean Community (CARICOM) – a regional organisation of fifteen state and dependencies. The report called for an end to “prohibition and draconian criminal penalties” for cannabis possession, and advised countries to consider both decriminalisation and legalisation.

Trinidad and Tobago

In Trinidad and Tobago, outright legalisation has been endorsed by several groups, including the All Mansion of Rastafari (AMOR), who insist that decriminalisation is insufficient in tackling the harms of prohibition. Jesse Daniel, an attorney and AMOR member, told a press conference in January that full legalisation – including a regulated cannabis industry and legalised personal cultivation - would reduce gang violence and pressure on the judicial system, while also improving the country's agricultural economy.

Daniel also denounced the state for continuing to criminalise people for cannabis possession during the current interim period.

“What [...] is happening [on] a day-to-day basis [is that] police continue to arrest many young persons for small amounts of [cannabis]. It’s as though they are trying to say ‘before the law is changed, let us spread as wide a net as possible so we can see [how] much we can rake in’,” he said.

Trinidad and Tobago follows numerous other Caribbean countries in implementing or planning progressive cannabis reform in recent years.

Antigua and Barbuda decriminalised the drug in 2018, and intend to regulate production in coming months. Prior to the passing of the decriminalisation bill in that country, the prime minister ordered police to end all prosecutions for personal cannabis use, noting the discriminatory nature of the law towards the Rastafarian community in particular.

Jamaica decriminalised the personal possession and cultivation of cannabis in 2015, St Vincent and the Grenadines have announced plans to create a legal medical cannabis industry, and the Prime Minister of Dominica has called for the decriminalisation of personal possession.

The public consultations in Trinidad and Tobago are set to take place throughout January and February, and will be followed by the government making a more concrete decision on the type of reform that will be implemented.