Illegal marijuana seized by police.

A group of persons serving prison sentences for possession of small amounts of marijuana has lost their initial bid to have their sentences reviewed in light of the recent decriminalisation of the drug. 

As the 21 members of the group were lawfully convicted before the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act took effect from December 23, last year, they were forced to file an application seeking to retroactively extend the deadlines for filing appeals to have their sentences reconsidered by the Court of Appeal. 

However, their joint application was dismissed by Appellate Judge Vasheist Kokaram during a brief hearing at the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain, Monday afternoon. 

In his decision, Kokaram explained that there were other remedies available to the group including applying through the T&T Police Service (TTPS)  to clear their records and seeking a presidential pardon through the Mercy Committee.  

Earlier this year, High Court Judge Norton Jack made similar suggestions when the Office of the Attorney General brought a lawsuit seeking to have him apply the legislation to the almost 700 persons, who may benefit retroactively. Despite his position, Jack still granted bail to most of the remanded beneficiaries to allow them to make the applications. 

During the hearing, attorney Yves Nicholas, who represented the group, complained that while the Government had introduced the legislation, it had not established the procedures and provided the necessary resources for persons to apply to benefit as suggested by Kokaram. 

Under the legislation, persons are allowed to possess up to 30 grammes or four marijuana plants without penalty, while persons may receive fines for possession of between 30 and 100 grammes of marijuana.

Four members of the group were convicted of possession of fewer than 30 grammes, while the remainder were convicted of possession within the range for fines or a little over.

In the appeal, those members who fell outside the range were planning on calling on the court to reconsider their prison sentences based on the revised penalty scheme prescribed in the legislation.

The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) was represented by Mauricia Joseph. 

Reporter Derek Achong