President David Granger said, while government would be taking steps to remove jail terms for small amounts of marijuana for personal use, concerns have been raised about potentially increased marijuana smoking at a time when steps were being taken to curb tobacco smoking.
“Our health experts were concerned that, one the one hand we are moving towards reducing smoking in public places and elsewhere and discouraging smoking in all sectors of the population, at the same time there is a movement to encourage the use of marijuana so I think there is a contradiction there,” he said in response to a question on whether government would now add marijuana smoking to the tobacco legislation.
The Guyana government decided to amend the Narcotics and Pyschotropic Substances Act before year-end to remove mandatory jail terms for small amounts of ganja for personal use based on recommendations by a Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Marijuana Commission presented to regional leaders at their summit held last July in Jamaica. However, the Guyanese leader said government would still be pushing an agenda to discourage all forms of smoking.
“From a health point-of-view, our government, our Ministry of Public Health is still inclined to discourage smoking of all types of substances- tobacco or marijuana,” he said.
The President did not rule out the possibility of marijuana being added to to the tobacco legislation to prohibit ganja smoking in public places, but added that there was no plan to do so at this time. “What we do know is that the use of marijuana would not, after the legislation is passed, incur custodial sentence,” he said.
The Alliance For Change (AFC) component of the governing coalition had since 2016 called for softer penalties for the possession of marijuana for personal use. However, Granger’s A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) part of the coalition had appeared reluctant to do so even after a Commission of Inquiry into disturbances at the Georgetown Prison had recommended no custodial sentences for such narcotic offences because it was leading to overcrowded jails.
Director Prisons, Gladwin Samuels recently welcomed government’s decision to amend the law to provide for non-custodial sentences for small amounts of marijuana for individual use, saying it would reduce the prison population and the cost of feeding and accommodating inmates.
Samuels has, however, recommended stiff penalties for law enforcement officers working at the country’s jails and caught with marijuana in their possession. Prison guards have in the past been arrested with marijuana in their possession inside the jails.