Sunday 18 August, 2019

Marijuana offences clogging Barbados court system

Over $35 million was spent on drug-related offences for people incarcerated between 2009-2014.

A study on marijuana use and the efforts of the judicial system to penalise it has revealed some alarming statistics.

Director of the Criminal Justice Research and Planning Unit (CJRPU), Cheryl Willoughby, delivered the findings of a study conducted by the CJRPU in Barbados from 2009 to 2014. She was one of three panelists who spoke on Marijuana: The Existing State of Affairs as part of a two-day series of the Marijuana Symposium hosted by the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus.

During her presentation, Willoughby disclosed statistics on persons who were arrested and charged with marijuana-related offences, the quantity of marijuana seized by law enforcement officials, as well as the demographics of those who were before the court for use of the drug over the six-year period.

Willoughby said 3,412 persons were charged with committing 4,266 cannabis-related offences ranging from possession, importation, trafficking, having a trafficable quantity, cultivation, intent to supply and permitting premises for use. This number accounted for approximately 8 per cent of all reported crime in Barbados. She noted that marijuana-related cases were diverting the attention of law enforcement officials away from other criminal activities.

“Previous to this study we would have done a study on burglaries in Barbados and domestic burglaries was something that was of tremendous concern to us as researchers and the law enforcement. And it seems as though we are having significant problems in terms of law enforcement and other criminal justice agencies having to divert the attention away from other areas to deal with the issue of marijuana-related offenses.”

She went onto explain that marijuana related cases were approximately 46.54 per cent of all cases adjudicated in the Magistrate Court - a total of 1,652 cases with the majority, 835, being heard at the District A Magistrate Court.

“So not only is it creating significant challenges for the police department but also for the Magistrate Court which, to my mind, seems to be overburdened with cases related to drug offences, specifically marijuana."

The study also looked at the economic impact marijuana-related cases were having on the Magistrate Court, HMP Dodds and Juvenile Detention Centre. Over the year six-year period, 1,520 people were convicted for marijuana-related offenses and it has accounted for a significant amount of money used to criminalise drug offenses.

“What we determined was that over the six-year period Barbados spent over BBD$35 million dealing with issues of drug-related offenses for persons incarcerated. So not only does it have an impact on the criminal justice system but we also have to look at the economic costs to Barbados of mass incarceration.”

She said there is a major issue with the recidivism rate as it appears convicted criminals were not reintegrating into society well and within a six-month period they were usually back before the court for a similar offence or one more serious.

With regard to small amounts of marijuana (15 grams or less), Willoughby said statistics revealed that less than 5 per cent of those charged for marijuana-related offences were actually convicted as they received alternate sentences such as fines, probation, community service or a reprimand and discharge.

Statistics for marijuana seizure reveal a total of 32,230.65 kg of compressed marijuana from outside of Barbados was seized by law enforcement while 116,897 plants were seized by police in Barbados.

The study will be used to inform the CJRPU and the Office of the Attorney General on the debate about decriminalising marijuana for research, medicinal and religious purposes. 

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