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Too many arrests of person in possession of small quantities for marijuana – Caribbean report

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A marijuana report says that in the Caribbean, there are too many arrests of persons caught with small amounts of marijuana.

The report also states that there are too many cases of imprisonment, pressuring of law enforcement resources and filling of jails with otherwise law-abiding citizens with small amounts of cannabis in their possession.

The report was submitted to the Caribbean Community Heads of Government in June. It was done by the CARICOM Regional Commission on Marijuana and sanctioned by the CARICOM Conference of Heads of Government at its 25th Inter-Sessional Conference in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) in 2014.

The report dubbed, “Waiting to exhale, safeguarding our future through responsible socio-legal policy on marijuana”, stated that at times, arrests are exacerbated by the inability of persons arrested to raise bail, while law enforcement personnel themselves complain about this ineffective, wasteful system and believe that their resources are better employed fighting serious crimes.

“They (law enforcement) debunk myths that cannabis/marijuana is a causative factor in criminal conduct and believe that most persons use for stress relief. They also acknowledge that the poor are targeted in enforcing cannabis/marijuana law, while the rich are not,” said the report.

However, while asserting that cannabis does not cause criminal behaviour, law enforcement personnel warn that it encourages criminal activity through the protection of ‘turf’ and gang wars, leading to violence.

Some of this violence, according to the report, occur as a result of heavy-handed policing in eradication efforts, where millions of black market profits are lost each year.

“Continued prohibition perpetuates the illicit market, which has negative implications for citizen security and attempts to ensure quality and safety in products. For example, this market encourages unsafe products, such as those with high tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and contaminants. It also provides undeserved opportunities for criminal entrepreneurs. Law reform and decriminalization help to decrease this illicit market drastically,” said the report, which added that marijuana can no longer be accurately classified in law as a “dangerous drug” with “no medicinal or other value”.

The CARICOM report also states that the law is inconsistently applied, disproportionate and incongruous, particularly when viewed against the backdrop of other substances proven to be harmful, like alcohol, which are not similarly prohibited, decriminalized or demonized.

“Most Caribbean laws on cannabis provide for mandatory minimum penalties (typically draconian), which make the law harsher, especially within a strict liability regime. Persons spend long periods of imprisonment for possessing small amounts of cannabis/ marijuana, even persons who use for medical reasons. Significantly, persons arrested for cannabis/ marijuana can end up with much harsher penalties than those convicted of serious victim-based crime. Cannabis/ marijuana is a victimless crime,” said the report.

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