The Trinidad and Tobago Association of Psychologists (TTAP) supports the move to decriminalize marijuana possession and its use, with conditions. After a consideration of the social, medicinal and developmental factors, we believe that under the current dispensation where the possession of even small quantities of marijuana for personal use is illegal and attracts punitive prison sentences, these punitive measures can result in a great deal of social displacement, financial hardship, career interruptions and family dislocations.
Despite its positive medicinal reputation and its minimal known impact on social or interpersonal disharmony, marijuana-related arrests have been significant in number in Trinidad and Tobago, the effect of which is notable. A 2019 CNC3 report shared that there have been 80,815 marijuana-related matters in the Magistrate’s Courts between the years 2007 – 2018. Furthermore, the report highlighted that 31.8% of persons in remand are there for marijuana-related offences. The high percentage highlights the fact that incarceration of persons who use marijuana in minimal amounts is neither economically nor socially practical, and that effective changes should be considered.
In many developed and developing countries, the decriminalisation of marijuana possession and use is gaining momentum. CNC3’s research also revealed that 610,000 Caribbean citizens have tried marijuana at least once in their life and that the cultivation, sale, research, possession and use of the herb is increasing. Specifically, it is now accepted that its use for medical purposes is legitimate and its benefits tremendous.
Ongoing research also states that cannabinoids, a chemical found in the marijuana plant has been useful in treating distressing and debilitating ailments such as epilepsy, glaucoma, chronic pain, depression, anxiety, PTSD, psychosis and cancer. According to a report by the National Institute of Health, marijuana and cannabis have been used to treat ailments for at least 3,000 years. However, understanding the appropriate usage is of crucial importance if one is to benefit from the herb without suffering any associated potential negative effects (e.g. addiction and other mental health challenges). This would involve moderate use that is in compliance with specific instructions from a qualified healthcare provider.
It is noteworthy also, that consequent to the numerous marijuana-related arrests, the roles of persons convicted as parent, child, bread winner and family member are seriously disrupted with adverse consequences for family life and child rearing. It is well known that exposure to prison time is a contributor to the development of career criminals who upon release can gravitate to further criminal activity as the usual means of social and economic mobility are lessened. Many times they are not even rehabilitated upon release from serving a long prison term. The children of these prisoners are often stigmatized and subjected to bullying in their schools and these disruptions in family life has very little social value and contributes to a fractured social order.
It is projected that decriminalization would reduce or eliminate the multimillion dollar illegal trade as licensed individuals or companies could safely cultivate and sell marijuana as per legal guidelines; free up valuable court time to deal with more serious cases pending for many years, thus promoting a more efficient court system and by regulating this activity, quality controls could be incorporated to prevent the addition of addictive substances to the herb, which is a feature of the unregulated street trade. These measures will not only reduce cost to the taxpayer but provide a new revenue stream to the state through the implementation of licence fees and taxes.
TTAP therefore supports the decriminalisation of marijuana on the conditions that its use is adequately regulated, licenses to distribute are awarded to aptly trained/informed healthcare professionals, and the public is educated about its risks and benefits so that they make healthy decisions that support not only their physical, but also their mental health.
Clinical and Organisational Psychologist.
PRO, TT Association of Psychologists.