A case for use of resources
HIGH COURT JUDGE Randall Worrell shocked Barbadians last Wednesday when he suggested laws here should be reviewed to decriminalize drug use and possession for personal use.
Justice Worrell said this is the approach being taken in other parts of the world to combat the pervasive problem.
He argued too that alternatives to incarceration should also be implemented for low-level and non-violent drug related crimes, intimating that this would ease congestion in the court system.
The judge said these were some of the things Barbados has to look at if this country is going to set up a drug treatment court.
Is Justice Worrell admitting that Barbados has lost the fight against widespread marijuana use here and another approach is needed to combat the problem?
In today’s Big Interview with Publication Editor Sanka Price, the judge outlines why he proposes that decriminalization should be examined.
Have you proposed decriminalization because you think Barbados has lost the fight against illegal drugs?
Justice Worrell: I wouldn’t say Barbados has lost the fight. What we need to do is to pool our resources effectively so that in a more balanced way we can approach the whole problem in relation to drug use and drug abuse.
The comments I made came against the background as to the setting up of the drug treatment court in Barbados.
Throughout the Caribbean there has been a shift away from straight incarceration for drug use. In certain cases people are already saying there is de facto decriminalization as opposed to de jure (lawful) decriminalization, whereby legislation would have to be amended.
I was speaking about decriminalization for those caught with small amounts – less than the trafficable amounts.
One of the pitfalls associated with drug treatment courts relates to the lack of resources, so if we are going to properly set up such a facility, we have to concentrate on the drug dependent offenders, not the person who has one spliff, because he is not the recidivist; he is not dependent on drugs and breaks in someone’s car, or grabs and sells your gold just to get get a fix. He is probably a first offender.
Do you shepherd that person through the criminal justice system, or do you take the approach as in certain states in the United States that you decriminalize for personal use?
In other words, you shift the resources of the police because every time a person is arrested you have to complete a police file. Can that policeman not be doing something more beneficial to the detection of serious crime for the five, six hours to be processed?
It doesn’t stop there. If 40 or 50 per cent of those people do not plead guilty, then that substance has to be analyzed. That is money and resources being utilized.
Is that really the efficient use of resources as far as Barbados is concerned when we are operating against a background of scare resources, cutbacks and an economic recession?
Do we have the resources really to deal effectively with someone who has a spliff for personal use? Or should we be putting those resources to more efficient use for something more serious like the person actually selling drugs, or trafficking?
If you decriminalize a spliff, what happens is that you treat it as a violation where somebody can be fined; it can be confiscated and a record made of it. But you don’t clog up the criminal justice system.
Could you clarify what you mean by decriminalization?
Justice Worrell: Decriminalization does not mean legalization. That is something that we need to stress. The fact that you decriminalize does not mean it is legal to walk around with marijuana in your pocket or it is legal to smoke marijuana. With decriminalization, it would still be illegal to have the drug.
If you are caught with a small amount for personal use, it would be treated as a civil penalty as opposed to a criminal penalty. In some countries persons would have to go into counselling, do volunteer work or be fined, but no criminal record would be recorded against their name.
Now, when a person is caught, he gets a criminal record and that can, in some cases, ruin that person’s life. Is that what we are setting out to do? That is why I put it forward as a question.
What are the consequences of that criminal record not only for the person in Barbados vis a vis a police certificate of character for a job locally; but to overseas travel and education overseas, a job?
So you’re not saying it is okay to smoke marijuana as long as it is only for personal use?
Justice Worrell: Not at all. All of the studies may show that you shouldn’t smoke at all, but the reality is that many people are out there smoking cigarettes.
All of the studies have shown that prolonged use of marijuana causes severe effects and we have persons in Barbados using marijuana from as early as seven years old. So the question is, what tools are we going to use to reduce demand? This is where the drug treatment court is coming with an increase in treatment programmes.
How can you as a judge speak of decriminalization when you may have to adjudicate on such matters?
Justice Worrell: The way our system is set up right now, nearly all cases for personal use would be dealt with in the magistrates’ courts. The question being asked is, are they the persons we should be focusing on in the war against drugs, and how many drug kingpins are brought before the courts?
You see always in the magistrates’ court persons for possession and simple possession, and in some cases you see the same persons coming back who either can’t afford the treatment, or who have never probably been exposed to the treatment. These are the persons who would still be buying from their supplier. If you could wean that person off drugs you would eventually be reducing the resources of the supplier in an effective way.
So the drug treatment court and decriminalization of those caught with smaller quantities would be tools in the fight against illegal drugs.
Do you really save money through decriminalization?
Justice Worrell: You may be utilizing the same resources but it is a question of reallocating them. So instead of an officer being taken off the street and spending a few hours having someone processed for a spliff – when that person could be cited by way of a violation – that officer can spend more time in detecting a more serious crime. Those are issues that I think we need to ask ourselves.
What sort of success rate does decriminalizing drug use for personal use, and drug treatment courts, have?
Justice Worrell: Those who need help most for their addiction can get help, and it does not criminalize those who use drugs for personal use and are not addicts.
Do you think there is a need for public debate on this issue?
Justice Worrell: It may be very tricky when a Government is dealing with public opinion to say decriminalize, but I think you already have existing a de facto decriminalization as far as jail is concerned where persons for personal use would be fined.
I don’t think we should wait until somebody comes and suggests the legalization of marijuana. You have Internet, you have television. People are already asking how come in the United States that states are legalizing it and we are not talking about it in the Caribbean? I’m not proposing any legalization, I’m proposing for us to be more efficient in the war against drugs.
Does your idea have the support of the Government?
Justice Worrell: No one has told me it is the policy of the Government of Barbados to decriminalize marijuana for personal use. No one has said it is the intention to do that. I am just saying that from the perspective of the establishment of a drug treatment court, that we don’t want to take them from the criminal court per se and then just transfer them into the drug treatment court. That is what happened in many countries and that is what a lot of people have argued is a failing of drug treatment courts. We should learn from the experiences of other places or you don’t want to fall into the situation.
Assuming the authorities think your suggestion is worth discussing, how do you think we should proceed?
Justice Worrell: Obviously it is for Government to make any policy decisions as far as that is concerned. You also heard the Attorney General speak worryingly about the prison population, indicating he is concerned about that. If decriminalization and also the establishment of a drug treatment court would take people outside of the prison population, that I would think is one way forward.