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Jagdeo supports non-custodial sentences for marijuana possession; says no to cultivation, sale

FLASH BACK: A section of a large marijuana farm at WISROC, Linden.

Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo says he is in favour of decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of cannabis sativa (marijuana/ganja) to allow for non-custodial sentences, such as community service and rehabilitation.

He gave the pronouncement during a press engagement held at the Leader of the Opposition’ Office in Church Street, Georgetown on Thursday.

The former President was adamant however, he is not in favour of the legalization of marijuana for commercial purposes such as cultivation and sale.

Jagdeo told reporters that as Opposition Leader and General Secretary of the Peoples Progressive Party (PPP), he would not impose a diktat on his Members of Parliament (MPs), should the matter come up for a vote in the National Assembly.

He said, in such a situation he would call for a, ‘conscience vote’

The PPP General Secretary was asked to weigh in on the renewed marijuana debate locally, following the recent sentencing of a young father of three to three years in jail for possession of eight grams of the dried leaves, seeds and stems of the prohibited plant.

Jagdeo used the occasion to highlight that the matter in fact is now a problem for coalition partners—Peoples’ National Congress Reform (PNCR) and Alliance For Change. Minister of State, Joseph Harmon steered clear of whether A Partnership for National Unity was blocking debate on the amendment proposed since 2015 by AFC parliamentarian, Michael Carrington, to allow magistrates the option of non-custodial sentences for small amounts of marijuana.

Prior to the renewed debate, Harmon had virtually ruled out amendment to the law to allow for the cultivation of industrial hemp and Attorney General Basil Williams had said the Carrington-sponsored Bill should have first passed through Cabinet. AFC Leader, Raphael Trotman said earlier this week that that the proposed amendment would be taken to Cabinet.

Jagdeo qualified his position by pointing to the fact the AFC is pushing for the Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances Acts to be amended but is being stymied by the PNCR Leader and Chairman, President David Granger and Attorney General, Basil Williams. According to Jagdeo, the public consultations referred to by Attorney General Williams recently, with regards amending Guyana marijuana laws, “is one way of delaying.”

The Opposition Leader told media operatives what obtains now is that the AFC members in government are being pressured by its party members to push for the amendments to the marijuana laws, hence the resort by Williams, to call for public consultations aimed at a further delay.

According to Jagdeo, “we can’t continue to send somebody, a person, a young person or even an older person to jail for less than a quarter ounce of marijuana for three years when we have people who are traffickers and we have people who produce large quantities of marijuana, they, because they have money they can get off from the system.”
Jagdeo stressed however, he is not in favour of persons caught with small quantities of marijuana, getting off scot-free, but rather be slapped with non custodial sentences. “Sentence them to community work, sentence them to rehabilitation…you don’t want them locked away, you want them rehabilitated.”

Jagdeo, speaking to a re-look at the Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances Act, said it was not a contentious issue as that of the death penalty as example and is in fact an issue cuts across politics, since persons aligned to both political extremities have been subjected to sentences and fines for marijuana possession.

He used the occasion to also point to the fact the AFC has tabled a Bill to address the law and said “this public consultation, I think is to solve the contradiction that they have.” Asked about economic aspects in favour of amending marijuana laws, the former President said “I am not supporting the legalization of marijuana, growing marijuana, trading marijuana, selling marijuana in Guyana, you go to jail for that sort of thing, that’s our law I am not supporting that.”

A Commission of Inquiry into a prison disturbance has recommended the scrapping of jail terms for the possession of small amounts of marijuana.