Cannabis bill on front burner for Parliament in 2021


Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi AYANNA KINSALE

THE Cannabis Control Bill 2020 to regulate the marijuana business in TT will be the subject of public consultations in the coming year, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi has told Newsday.

Both Houses of Parliament had sent the bill to a joint select committee (JSC) chaired by the AG and set up on November 9, due to report at year-end, but which in mid-December had sought a three-month extension.

“In the next year we have a lot to look forward to in Parliament on the agenda,” Al-Rawi said.

“The Tobago self-governance issue comes to the front, you’ll see campaign finance reform come out of its JSC, you’ll see the further operationalisation of the public procurement laws, you’ll see a return to anti-gang legislation in a different format, you’ll see the gaming legislation, the Revenue Authority, the National Statistical Institute, the Cannabis Control Bill.”

Of the latter, he said, “You will see some very significant public consultations come into the mix, as we begin very early in the New Year. There are further issues we have to dive into, which will involve a lot of what the country has to say in response to these issues.”

He said he was not confident the Opposition would act differently than before in Parliament, but he said he will persevere despite any such opposition.

“I think the best of our days are ahead of us.”

The AG anticipated other bills.

“As we bring digitisation into the forefront by looking at our data protection, cyber crime and electronic transaction arrangement while we digitise the public sector, you are going to see us get some very quick results come into the mix.”

He said the Beverage Container Bill and Whistle-blower Protection Bill will resurface in Parliament.

“We expect it to be a very busy year as we continue the process of reform.

“My good wishes to TT include having faith, not losing hope, understanding that productivity comes from an honest day’s work including accepting that you don’t need to find perfection but you just need to start. The trick is to just start, take your wins one step at a time.

“From my years in martial arts, I learnt you can’t become a black belt in one go but one step at a time.”

He promised to spend much time in his San Fernando West constituency and be a champion of its development.

“I thank the Prime Minister for his courage to lead this country in the manner he has and for reposing the faith that he has in several of us to do our jobs in the manner we must.”

Al-Rawi was highly satisfied with the past year in parliament which, despite the severe economic challenge in TT, had seen significant legislative operationalisation. He boasted of coordination and connectivity in law-making.

“We have managed to connect everything from the decriminalisation of marijuana, to the abolition of child marriage, to road traffic, right down to anti-kidnapping and prison reform. There has been a whole of system improvement, and it has given me immense pleasure to be part of a Government that can connect all aspects of governance in the manner we have.”

The decriminalisation of marijuana for personal use by the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Bill had removed 8,500 cases from the magistrates court, the AG said, with unclogging also aided by the removal of thousands of traffic cases and preliminary inquiries.

Opposition senator Jayanti Lutchmedial was unimpressed with the Government’s past year in Parliament.

She said despite her raising an alarm in the budget to say procurement legislation must not be watered down, the Government did in fact do so in the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property (Amendment) Bill 2020.

“It is a real blow to accountability and transparency. It is unfair.”

She said the bill had undone years of work by MPs and civil society.

Lutchmedial was also concerned about anti-crime measures which could be seen as draconian in reversing people’s constitutional right to a presumption of innocence.

“Unless you see these having a drastic impact on crime, they are not justified.”

Lutchmedial stoutly objected to bills removing a judge’s right to exercise his/her discretion in sentencing, such as in the Bail (Amendment) Bill.

She said the Opposition has supported the 2019 amendments to the Sexual Offences Act which created a national sex offenders’ register.

Lutchmedial supported the fact that in line with the advice of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), it was not a public register like those in the US so as to avert victim identification and stigmatisation.

Most of TT’s socially activist NGOs had opposed the publicising of the register, as cited in the Report of the Senate Special Select Committee on the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill 2019, laid in May 2019.

CAISO had said a public register could be used for criminal networking, and the Institute for Gender and Development Studies of the University of the West Indies suggested listed offenders were more likely to re-offend. The police supported publicising, and the judiciary took a middle road to urge judicial discretion in whether to list an offender.

Lutchmedial, supporting privacy of the register, told Newsday, “It (a public register) could also stymie efforts to rehabilitate offenders, as the label would make them unemployable.”

However, she said the register should be used to ensure sex offenders do not conduct certain types of activities, such as taxi driving, teaching and coaching.

“The tragic murder of Ashanti Riley and the brutal attack of Stefani Flores are just two of many cases that highlight the need for better regulation and enforcement of laws against working motor vehicles for hire.

“The ‘PH taxi’ phenomenon provides an easy access mechanism for sexual predators, even though most drivers are just hard-working individuals who are trying to make a living.”

Lutchmedial said the right balance must be found.

“Apart from placing the burden on women to verify who are offenders, we have to also take steps to promote a culture shift and attack root causes of gender-based violence. Emotionally and mentally wounded men attack women.

“We have to create avenues for them to seek help and normalise the concept of men processing emotions instead of resorting to violence. We cant keep telling women how to not get raped. Its time to start telling men to not commit rape.”

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