Release Juveniles on remand for smoking a spliff!
WITH LEGISLATION now in place to making it a non-criminal offence for individuals held with two ounces of ganja, the Child Development Agency (CDA) wants cases involving juveniles on remand for smoking a spliff to be revisited.
"I can't tell you how many such cases are there and how many juveniles are involved. But I do know that there are juveniles who are remanded currently for smoking a spliff," said Rosalee Gage-Grey, chief executive officer of the CDA.
Ganja has been used widely in Jamaica for decades, but was illegal until the House of Representatives, in February, gave approval to an act decriminalising small amounts of pot and the establishment of a licensing agency to regulate a lawful medical marijuana industry.
Prior to that, individuals have been sent away on long sentences for various amounts of the substance, which is sometimes used medicinally and otherwise as a sacrament in the Rastafarian community.
"I agree it was illegal at the time. But, I am now saying that if it is now legal for individuals to have two ounces in their possession, I think it is only fair that those juveniles who are currently on remand for that alone, to be given a second chance," she argued, as she spoke with The Gleaner in a post-Editor's Forum interview.
Gage-Grey said the juveniles cases could be looked at as time served.
"We do not want to send a signal that we are upholding wrongdoing. Far from it. But I believe that it would be in the best interest of the young people, and if the intent was to teach them a lesson, I believe it would have already been learnt," she suggested.
Medical doctor and Member of Parliament for St Ann North East Dr Dayton Campbell agrees with the position of Gage-Grey.
"I agree. I have maintained that smoking a spliff should not be a criminal act, but there are public health concerns for children and adolescents. So rehabilitation, inclusive of detox and release, would be my recommendation," he proposed.
Attorney-at-law Mark-Paul Cowan expressed surprise that such a situation would currently obtain.
"If such a situation obtains currently it should be remedied forthwith. I can't imagine anyone being imprisoned for a long period for a spliff," he told The Gleaner.
According to him, since the passage of the ganja laws in February, no judge would have sentenced anyone for possession of a spliff.
"I don't know what provisions are in place for that right now. But even under the old regime, no one should get long sentences. It's either a fine or short confinement. The proposal by Gage-Grey, however, would necessitate some involvement of Parliament, I believe, given that the situation would have been different when they were sentenced," Cowan argued.
He said individuals, juvenile or adults, can apply, immediately on completion of sentences, to have their records expunged under the Criminal Records Rehabilitation Act.
Attorney-at-law Kaidy Brown said the law does not apply retrospectively and she was not sure if the CDA Act makes any exception to what currently obtains.
"Revisit some cases yes. For first-time offenders and in some special circumstances, I think the law should be lenient," she, too, suggested.