15 February 2012

Tunisia: Citizens to Protest for Decriminalization of Cannabis

A Tunisian Facebook page calling for a protest to legalize marijuana in the country has garnered almost 4,000 potential attendees. It seeks to resuscitate an issue previously off-limits during the former regime of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

"All united to pass a marijuana legislation," is a Facebook page that advocates for decriminalizing the use of cannabis- or 'zatla' in Tunisian dialect - in the country. The page calls upon all those who share its cause to gather Saturday, February 18th, in front of the headquarters of the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) in Bardo, Tunis.

The demonstration aims at pressuring the NCA, Tunisia's legislative body in charge of drafting the country's new constitution, to legalize the use of cannabis.

The organizers of the event argue that Tunisia's anti-cannabis laws are unnecessarily stringent, and without precedent elsewhere in the world. In Tunisia, if an individual's blood is tested positive for smoking cannabis, the person will be automatically subject to a minimum sentence of one year in jail and a 1000 dinar fine - or as they say in Tunisia "One year and a Vespa" (in reference to a year in prison and a fine equivalent to the price of a Vespa motorcycle).

Mokhtar Trifi, a Tunisian lawyer and renowned human rights activist, asserted that the majority of countries in the world do criminalize the use and distribution of certain drugs. However, he added that Tunisian lawyers are concerned over the stipulation within Tunisian law that dictates the minimal sentence for soft drug consumption.

This provision inhibits judges, presiding over marijuana-related cases, from commuting this mandated, minimal sentence to one more reasonable depending on the particular infraction. Trifi added that he did not hear of any serious attempt to abolish or lighten the soft drug penalty in Tunisia.

"This law has made many Tunisian parents suffer ... We have to make a move before more people find themselves in prison for smoking cannabis," read the event's description.

@zatla404, one of the most famous virtual advocates for the legalization of cannabis in Tunisia, published a letter on his blog addressed to the members of the Constituent Assembly in which he described the prohibition of cannabis as "unconstitutional, inefficient, and corrupt."

Debate surrounding the cause, championed by this budding movement, has not only been limited to the anonymous realm of the internet.

Slim Amamou, a renowned Tunisian blogger and the former Minister of Youth and Sports, announced in an aired interview that he personally supports decriminalizing the use of soft drugs, including cannabis.

However, before "Legalize it" can tackle the issue of cannabis legalization, the movement may first have to devise a way to legalize its demonstration on Saturday. In Tunisia, demonstrators must receive authorization from the Ministry of the Interior before organizing a protest. According to Hichem Meddeb, spokesman of the Ministry of the Interior, as of February 14th no official application has been received for the event. Meddeb reiterated that protesting without informing the ministry beforehand is illegal.

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