Deeming it a waste of both the courts’ and police’s time, Barbadians will no longer be charged for having the quantity of cannabis commonly referred to as a roach or spliff on the streets.
That means, anyone in possession of 14 grams or half an ounce or less of marijuana will no longer be arrested and forced to appear in court, thereby earning a criminal record, which in turn has implications for employment and ability to travel.
Dame Sandra Mason announced the proposed policy change of the Mia Mottley Administration during the delivery of The Throne Speech in Tuesday’s historic sitting of Parliament at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.
The Drug Abuse (Prevention and Control) Act will be amended to reflect this, but possession will still be against the law and remain punishable.
“A significant amount of the time of our law enforcement officers and of our Magistrates’ Courts is taken up with dealing with individuals with small quantities of cannabis. In 2019, 4 295 drug and drug related criminal charges were laid against accused persons. This represented 30 per cent of the criminal charges laid in that year and were laid against 534 persons,” noted Dame Sandra.
“A large number of these cases are minor, but required the deployment of significant police resources in investigating, processing, taking statements and taking the cases through to trial. This process has little or no redemptive value and in human terms, a large number of our young men are forever left with the taint of the drug charges and the possible conviction.
“It is imperative that we take immediate steps to find an alternative way of dealing with our young men and women who are found with small quantities of cannabis, so that they are educated about, and treated for their drug use, while at the same time, not trivialising the criminal nature of their conduct.”
A similar approach was adopted in Jamaica and St Vincent and the Grenadines.
As a result, police will issue a “fixed penalty notice”, similar to a traffic ticket, giving the person 30 days to pay a $200 fine. Anyone under 18 years who is caught will be referred to the National Council on Drug Abuse for counselling, in addition to paying the ticket.
It is an offence to smoke in public, be in possession of the amount of cannabis previously stated or fail to pay the ticket, and the offender will then have to appear in Magistrates’ Court where community service or an increased fine of $1 000 are possible. Being convicted for failing to pay the original fine will then become part of the criminal record.
“This is not a licence for lawlessness and my Government recognises the link between serious drugs and crime, but is also cognisant of international trends and the social realities of Barbados,” Dame Sandra said. (SAT)