The North African country of Tunisia is not a place where you want to be caught with a joint.
Up until recently, the law on the books stated anyone seized with marijuana would spend a year in jail, with no exceptions. This extremely aggressive approach toward simple possession is a remnant of disgraced autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who did not favor taking any policy resembling a soft approach to drugs.
Now it seems the country is applying a more sober approach toward marijuana with President Beji Caid Essebsi. Yesterday, the President announced measures that will be taken to unclog the Tunisian prison system, which is currently filled with mostly cannabis-related offenses.
For a first-time offense, judges will now be allowed to issue a pardon immediately. The new measure will take effect next Monday which is aptly Tunisian Independence Day.
This change of heart could not come soon enough, as official figures show that between 2011 and 2016 the number of trials for marijuana-related crimes climbed from 732 to 5,744.
Last December, the Tunisian Government presented a draft to Parliament which provided the abolition of prison sentences for the first two convictions. Although that measure has not been adopted, at the very least, groups that include the International Federation for Human Rights are calling this “a step forward.”
Cannabis lovers in democratic nations around the world who stare into this bleak example of marijuana punishment will no doubt feel a sense of comfort living with the freedoms they currently enjoy. But to the people of Tunisia, this decree will be a huge sigh of relief, as the shackles of extreme prohibition are slowly removed.
Photo Courtesy of Habib M’henni