As the medicinal marijuana industry takes root here, local lawyer Grant Connell has expressed the view that four pieces of legislation – the Drug Prevention and Misuse Act, the Proceeds of Crime Act, the Medicinal Cannabis Industry Bill and the Cannabis Cultivation (Amnesty) Bill – are on a collision course.
Connell’s concern arose mainly out of a money laundering matter before the court earlier this week where his client Wilfred Clouden of Georgetown was fined $150,000 for laundering 126,808 Euros (EC$459,106.85) over a period of 7 years.
According to the facts revealed, between 2009 and 2015 Clouden received varying amounts of cash in EC currency via Western Union money from a number of persons in some Caribbean countries, the United States of America, Canada and England and he converted them to Euros on behalf of three named persons – Kamari ‘Kam’ Neptune, Godfrey ‘Tyler’ Cumberbatch and Wilmore ‘Tally Green’ Goodgie – who were well-known to the police and who have all been shot and killed.
Connell’s contention is that while the Medicinal Cannabis Industry Bill, passed last December, provides for cultivation of marijuana for medicinal purposes as it decriminalizes it, there is the Drug Prevention and Misuse Act under which persons growing, or in possession of, marijuana can be charged.
To illustrate, Connell said one person can be on one side of a hill growing marijuana legally and on the other side of the hill another is growing the same marijuana but it is not legal.
Connell also said that marijuana is a Class B drug and cocaine is a Class A drug but the penalties are the same for both.
“I had great confidence in the Prime Minister in 2001, that given his history as an advocate, an attorney involved in matters of this nature, involving marijuana, his whole approach would have been different,” he said.
Connell noted that before the amendment the maximum penalties for marijuana possession under section 7.3 of the drug Act were: at the magistrate court level was three years in prison and/or a fine of $100,000.00 and at the High Court level seven years and/or $200,000.00.
“That’s for both Class A and Class B drugs,” he said, adding that for the charge of possession with intent to supply to another the maximum sentences were three years at the magisterial level and 14 years at the High Court.
“So, I think the first thing that really should have been done is to separate cannabis from cocaine in the eyes of the law as far as sentencing is concerned. Because in the Class A drug, you have cocaine. And Class B drugs you have cannabis and ganja,” Connell stated.
The defense lawyer said that Class B drugs simple possession, under section 8.2, now carries a maximum sentence of seven years at the magistrate court level and/or a fine of $500,000.00; and at the High Court the maximum prison sentence is 25 years and the maximum fine is $1.5 million. And, for possession with intent to supply to another, the maximum penalty at the magistrate court is 7 years and at the High Court it is 25 years in prison and/or a fine of $5 million.
Connell said that for cultivation of cannabis the maximum sentence is 6 years and/or $400,000.00 at the magistrate court and at the high court 25 years and/or $1.5 million.
“It’s a lot of pressure. The law has a lot of pressure on the ganja man, as is. Those sentences are far too harsh and unconscionable… That’s why many people were shocked when people caught with marijuana got 17 years. But, it’s well within the ambit of the law.
Before, that couldn’t happen because the maximum under section 7.3 was 14 years. But, it has been increased to 25 years. And under the Drug Prevention and Misuse Act, cannabis has the same meaning. So, it’s the same tree,” Connell said.
“So, you have a situation where on one side of the mountain farmers could subject themselves to these harsh sentences, for growing the same tree as the investors on the other side of the mountain. You see the problem?” Connell asked.
On the issue of the penalties for Class A and Class B drugs, Connell said: “You cannot compare cocaine with a herb – a natural plant compared to a chemical. I will like to see that changed. But, I don’t make the laws.”
Connell also has concerns with the Cannabis Cultivation (Amnesty) Bill, passed last December and is about to be given operational status.
“When you become a traditional farmer and you have expressed that you’ve been part of an illegal trade, growing marijuana illegally, my concern is the little acquisition the farmer would have made. And now, as he holds his head up high, to say he is a legal ganja man, per se, is there any protection for him under the new legislation to stop the FIU, through the Proceeds of Crime Act, to have somewhat of a boomerang effect?” Connell stated.
“How many ganja men are being investigated all now?” Connell asked, noting that traditional farmers may have already disclosed their involvement in the trade for decades during which they had acquired certain properties.
Connell noted that there have been housing developments in the north of the country where the largest cultivation of marijuana has been taking place.
“Is their past gonna haunt them? What protection is there for the ganja man?” he asked.
Connell, who has been at the fore in recent years representing persons in the courts in some of the biggest drug cases, said that government officials have boasted that this country has a 50-year history of producing marijuana which is considered the best and that has been a sales pitch to attract investors for the medicinal cannabis industry.
“But my question is: ‘what protection those who have created this 50-year experience have?’” he said.
“So, these pieces of legislation seem to be on somewhat of a collision course. It’s only a matter of time,” Connell stated.