As the decriminalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes takes root in St Vincent and the Grenadines and as an amnesty for traditional marijuana farmers hovers, there is concern that a trap might have been set for the ‘traditional farmer’ as the conduct of investigating agencies such as the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) could be in contrast to what is believed to be parliament’s intention.
The issue surfaced in the Serious Offences Court yesterday when Chateaubelair resident Andy ‘Blacka’ Bennett appeared on a charge of possessing 47 grammes of cannabis with intent to supply.
Bennett pleaded guilty to the charge and Chief Magistrate Rechanne Browne reprimanded and discharged him in her discretion, given the mitigating factors presented by his lawyer Grant Connell and recommendation by Senior Prosecutor Adolphus Delpesche.
Bennett was arrested at Rose Place on Monday afternoon by a mobile patrol squad from the narcotics division of the police force. During his arrest, police seized US$5,620.00 (EC$15,005.40) and EC$2,000.00 in cash from him.
Connell told the court yesterday that the police handed over the money to the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) and the FIU returned to him only $53.00 which was the equivalent cost of the quantity of the cannabis.
Connell said that his client has been a farmer for 45 years. He said that he showed the FIU receipts which explained how he got the monies he was in possession of, having sold cattle and vegetables.
Connell said that while there were talks about traditional farmers being encouraged to get into the production of cannabis for medicinal purpose, he was skeptical of going on record to say his client was a ‘traditional farmer’ because the FIU would turn around and say that his client’s assets were the proceeds of crime.
“Somebody fooling somebody,” Connell stated.
Connell took the police to task saying that they accosted his client simply because of his humble appearance. He said that if his client was a “briefcase-carrying, toupee-wearing white man” they would not have accosted him.
Connell asked if, as a black Vincentian he was not capable of having that amount of money on his person.
“Why we love to pressure our own?… There must be something wrong,” Connell opined.