(GUYANA CHRONICLE) — President David Granger said an amendment to the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substance Control Act will soon be laid before the National Assembly to allow for the removal of custodial sentences for the possession of small amounts of marijuana – an announcement which has been well received by the Rastafarian community.
In response to a series of questions put to him by journalists during a press briefing at the Ministry of the Presidency on Friday, President Granger said the issue was discussed at the level of Cabinet and an agreement was reached.
“We have taken a decision in principle that custodial sentences for the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use would be legally abolished after the National Assembly comes off of its recess, you could look forward to that legislation,” the President told journalists.
Several concerns still to be addressed – Rastafarians
On Saturday, immediate past President of the Guyana Rastafari Council and member of the Society of Marijuana Advocates for Reform and Treatment (SMART), Leon Saul told the Guyana Chronicle that the Rastafarian Community welcomes this announcement, but noted that there are several concerns that need to be addressed.
“We are fully in support of this move, except for the fact we felt that the procrastination was being manufactured by persons who hadn’t the interest of our community and general ganja-using community at heart. But right now we are heartened by the fact that he has again indicated that this will be so,” Saul told this newspaper.
The SMART member said the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) government should detail what exactly the amendment will entail.
“What we are most concerned about is that despite the fact that he says that small amounts would not be ‘jail-able’, we don’t know what exactly is this small amount, and we of the Rastafarian Community and representatives of SMART… we have been advocating for 56 grams which is two ounces for personal possession,” Saul explained.
‘Let us plant small amounts’
SMART and the Guyana Rastafari Council are also advocating for persons to be allowed to farm small amounts of marijuana plants, not for industrial purposes, but personal supply and use, medicinal, recreational and sacramental use.
Once the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Control Act is amended, Saul said there should be no delay in its enforcement or implementation.
When President Granger had first announced the move to remove jail time for small possession of small amounts of marijuana in Guyana, he had made it clear that industrialisation of the cannabis was a ‘no-no’ for the government.
“We are not moving towards encouraging the industrialisation of marijuana production,” he had told the Guyana Chronicle on the sidelines of the 39th Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in Jamaica last July.
“I think that is a little premature in the context of Guyana, and we have [a] vast landscape in comparison with some of the Caribbean island states, we have challenges for enforcement and challenges for control of that land space, and it will be very difficult for Guyana to embark on that course at the present time. So we are moving towards the removal of the custodial sentences, we are not moving towards the encouragement of the use of marijuana,” he had explained.
Over the years, several persons have been placed behind bars for having small amounts of marijuana in their possession– a move which has been frowned upon, given the overcrowding of the country’s prisons. Once found in possession of more than five grams of cannabis, a person can be sentenced to three years in jail.
‘Review marijuana status at your own pace’ – CARICOM Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), agreed that action should be taken at the national level to review marijuana’s current status with a view to reclassification, but at their own pace.
During their 39th Regular Conference, the CARICOM Heads of Government reviewed the Report of the Regional Commission on Marijuana and took note of its findings, conclusions and recommendations, particularly with respect to human and religious rights; the social and developmental impact of use among adolescents; the economic benefits to be derived and issues related to its classification. Among the recommendations was the call for the decriminalisation of marijuana but in regulated amounts.
Chairman of CARICOM and Prime Minister of Jamaica, Andrew Holness, while referencing the report, said the regional leaders have admitted that the current classification of marijuana as an illicit drug presents a challenge in the conduct of research to fully understand and ascertain the medicinal benefits of cannabis.
He said it was on that note that the 15 heads of government agreed action is necessary at the national level by the relevant authorities to review the current status of marijuana with a view to reclassification.
‘Custodial sentences criminalise young people’ – AFC
The AFC, which forms a major part of the coalition government, said it is time legislators move with alacrity to upgrade the laws of Guyana to ensure that custodial sentences for small quantities of marijuana are removed from the books in their entirety.
“Custodial sentences serve, in large measure, to criminalise young people, particularly young men who have been caught with small quantities of marijuana – an offence which is a mere error in judgment and not representative of criminal behaviour,” the AFC said earlier this year.
AFC Member of Parliament Michael Carrington, since 2015 had tabled a bill in the National Assembly for debate, but it has since been languishing on the order paper, being deferred time and time again.