Columns

The squandered gift of life

Anthony Gomes

Wednesday, July 25, 2012    

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THE Arab Spring has degenerated into an Arabian blood bath with no end in sight – soon to expand again into Africa, starting with Nigeria, Congo, Rwanda and Somalia, and approaching the tinder box of Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

Syria, like it or not, has become the catalyst splitting the Western world into two fearfully armed camps, that is, Russia and China, with Iran and North Korea adding to the flammability of the existing tense relationship between East and West. Collectively, the destruction of the human race in the 21st century is appalling, and due largely to the damnable materialistic appetites of sovereign states around the world, corrupt or otherwise, fuelled by Western-style laissezfaire democracy that has had to grapple with the reactionary backlash that became Al Qaeda, with its numerous cohorts around the planet, and the renaissance of the extreme right, as seen in the significant presence of the NPD “Immortals” in Germany, and the rise of other European far right parties as in France, Greece and the UK.

The impotent posture of the United Nations – regarding the catastrophic Syrian situation – has demonstrated the power of Eastern versus Western ideology, which will not disappear and is likely to intensify in the near future, having all the hallmarks of a potentially worldwide confrontation.

Nearer home in our relatively peaceful Caribbean region, we are discovering that today there seem to be a lot more ways to shorten one’s life than there are remedies to prolong it. Legally, you can consume unlimited amounts of addictive substances that may cause you to fall into oblivion, and develop one of the many devastating illnesses associated with drug abuse. Still there are continuous demands for further relaxation of laws that are designed to protect citizens from harming themselves. How does one explain the continued call to decriminalise ganja use when there is a network of drug courts and special remedial programmes – set up by KD Knight when a minister of government – which has worked satisfactorily by all accounts, and does not charge an offender who agrees to undergo a remedial programme? Major drug distributors and producers remain in the criminal category, to be dealt with according to the existing law.

Readers and some lawyers need to be reminded of the enactment of The Drug Court (Treatment and Rehabilitation of Offenders) Act 1999. The purpose of the Act is: “to provide for the establishment of a Drug Court in order to facilitate the treatment and rehabilitation of people who commit certain drug offences or other offences while under the influence of drugs, to provide for the supervision of such persons while undergoing treatment pursuant to a programme prescribed by the Drug Court and for connected matters”.

In practice, the clerk of courts may refer a person charged with a drug offence to the Drug Court, which is a Magistrate’s Court in each parish, in which the resident magistrate declares the court to be a Drug Court for the purposes of the Act. In effect therefore, a Drug Court exists in each of the 14 parishes. Incidentally, “drugs” include alcohol as falling within Parts 111, 111A and IV of the Dangerous Drugs Act. A person can be considered unsuitable or unwilling to be dealt with by the Drug Court, and would then be referred to the regular Magistrate‘s Court for hearing. Once a person is recommended for treatment and accepts the conditions to be imposed by the Drug Court, the offender is informed of the court’s powers under the Act and of the respective consequences of compliance or non-compliance with the prescribed treatment.

However, a conviction in respect of an offence, except for offences committed on more than two occasions, shall not form part of the criminal record of any person who successfully completes a prescribed treatment programme. In summary, a person found in possession of more than eight ounces of ganja shall, on recommendation of the clerk of courts, appear before the Drug Court. The offender then has a choice of how he wants to be dealt with, either by the Drug Court or the Resident Magistrate’s Court. If he elects the Drug Court, the eligible person, after assessment and found suitable by an approved treatment provider for a treatment programme, would be offered entry to such a programme.

On successful graduation from the treatment programme, the patient shall be discharged by the court, absolutely or conditionally. No criminal record or penalty shall be attached to the case. “Decriminalisation” would retain prohibition but without criminal penalties. As mentioned earlier, the Drug Court Act retains penalties for possession and supply, except in those instances where no more than eight ounces of ganja are found on the person, and then the treatment option is offered to the offender. The direction of this legislation harmonises with the wishes of most Jamaicans as reflected in two national polls (Don Anderson and Stone) published in August 2001 that recorded 58.3 per cent (The Gleaner) said “No” to decriminalisation of ganja, and 48.3 per cent (Jamaica Observer) also said “No”. In both polls, the majority of respondents opposed decriminalisation of ganja that this Act should render redundant.

We respectfully request Minister of Justice Senator Mark Golding to examine the Drug Court alternative, and avoid the decriminalisation option that has been rejected by Jamaicans as demonstrated by the result of both national polls. Decriminalisation would not be in the best interest of Jamaica which is currently experiencing dire economic difficulties.

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