Despite the winds of change with regard to marijuana, the penalties remain too harsh and unconscionable.
That’s the view of attorney Grant Connell, as he mitigated on behalf of mini-bus owner and operator Alvan Lovelace, of Campden Park, on Tuesday. Lovelace had pleaded guilty to possession of 270 pounds or marijuana for the purpose of drug trafficking and possession with intent to supply.
Connell noted that before 2008, the maximum penalty for marijuana possession was three years in prison and $100,000.
The Act was later amended bringing the maximum penalty to seven years in prison and $500,000 and since then, there have been no fundamental changes to the Act.
Connell said Lovelace was found in possession of locally grown marijuana, but what seemed to be foreign was the law and the harsh penalties. He agreed that this was an issue for the legislature, and made it clear that he was not blaming the Court.
Connell also pointed out that there was a direct nexus between value and sentencing, and referred the Court to an affidavit from President of the Cannabis Revival Committee (CRC) Junior ‘Spirit’ Cottle, which puts the value of marijuana between $200 and $250 per pound. The affidavit stated that this further reduction in the cost of marijuana was the result of increased security. This, along with the difficulty in getting the crop to better markets, created a glut on the local market, resulting in significant reduction in payment per pound that has been accepted by the farmers for mere survival.
Connell said that on the other hand, an affidavit from former head of the Narcotics Unit, ASP Foster Scott, carries the value of marijuana up to $900 per pound.
Connell asked Chief Magistrate Rechanne Browne to consider the value in the affidavit of Cottle who had been in the marijuana trenches for about 50 years, rose to become President of the CRC and Liason Officer with the Medical Cannabis Authority (MCA), and has sat on the Select Committee on Medical Marijuana.
Senior Prosecutor Adolphus Delpleche, in his response, pointed out that the law is evolving and will continue to evolve with regard to marijuana, so as to reflect the socio-economic conditions.
He noted that several years ago, persons were fined $1,000 for having just a seed in their possession, but this has changed.
But while Connell agreed that the law had evolved in that way, he pointed out that the sentences had gone up by over 100 percent.
In relation to value, Delpleche referred to a legal authority which speaks to the issue of guidance from an experienced police officer.