By Lara Pickford-Gordon
It is legal to use small amounts in the home but the Children’s Authority (CA) of Trinidad and Tobago is advising parents if there are children, “marijuana should not be used” because of the risks even from second-hand smoke. It is advocating for children to be protected.
During a media briefing at Tower D, International Waterfront Centre last Monday, Chairman of the CA Hanif Benjamin said, “I want to dispel the notion because 30 grammes are now legal for adults, that we can give children. The laws remain the same with the protection of children”.
On December 23, the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Bill became law allowing the lawful possession of 30–60 grammes of cannabis; persons can have four plants in the home.
“We cannot go around to police all the homes, but we are asking that responsibility takes charge and the adults in the home ensure we protect the well-being of our children. If we get a call we will respond,” he said.
The Authority had held meetings with government and nongovernmental organisations and they agreed that a “robust education programme” for children and families was needed.
Benjamin announced all laws in relation to drug use and children will be reviewed and recommendations made through the Minister of Gender and Child Affairs “to strengthen those laws”.
Rhonda Gregoire-Roopchan, deputy director, Care Services stated the CA would act, “If growth and cultivation practices of marijuana within the home are suspected of creating an environment that is injurious to the child through exposure to a specific hazard and if children are readily accessing marijuana.”
She identified examples which can prompt concern even when “legally permissible amounts are featured”: If marijuana use results in impairment in the ability to supervise or provide safe, stable or age-appropriate care for the child e.g. Exposing children to second-hand marijuana smoke; driving while intoxicated on marijuana, failing to secure marijuana or cannabis edibles resulting in easy access and likely usage by children.
Psychiatrist: ‘We have to be prepared’
Secretary of the Association of Psychiatrists Trinidad and Tobago Dr Varma Deyalsingh said the health system had to be prepared for “teens that may be experimenting”. He told the media although “safer” than alcohol, children who accidentally consume marijuana in brownies can become “lethargic, semi-comatose”. Cases have been seen at Accident and Emergency departments with these symptoms. Deyalsingh said doctors must be aware.
“Older” children using marijuana can experience “amotivational syndrome” where they may refuse to attend school and prefer to stay home and smoke.
He went on, “if you are using marijuana as a teen, it will decrease your IQ (Intelligence Quotient) over a period of time…the earlier you start marijuana there is a greater chance of you getting a substance abuse addiction later on”. He said if there is a history of mental illness like schizophrenia or psychotic illness then the use of marijuana can lead to episodes.
Deyalsingh said, “We are getting more teens 16, 17, 18 in fact using drugs and coming in with psychosis. We have that already, so we have to know if more are going to be using. We have to be prepared.”
Decriminalisation may have been intended to ease the judiciary of the 8,000 persons in the system for small amounts of marijuana, however, Dr Deyalsingh said the health system could be under strain unless “we are willing to be prepared to put things in place, put buildings, safe areas for children to go to”. Deyalsingh supported the education thrust for young people.