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Ganja penalty at centre of fresh political controversy; gov’t says possession still illegal

Packets of marijuana

Government on Tuesday appeared to have back-pedaled from its position hours earlier that persons caught with small amounts of marijuana would not be jailed even as steps were being taken to amend the legislation, instead now saying that possession is still an offence until the law is amended.

“Possession is still illegal. The Government only proposes to remove custodial sentences for 30 grams or less of marijuana,” the Ministry of the Presidency said after the opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) lampooned the Granger-led administration for saying it was a Cabinet decision.

The PPP criticised government for saying earlier that Cabinet had decided to soften penalties for small amounts of marijuana for recreational, and religious use by Rastafarians. For the PPP, it pointed out that after the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) ruled that last December’s no-confidence motion was validly passed, Cabinet stood resigned but government said that Cabinet decision was made at its meeting on April 30.

Further, the Ministry of the Presidency said Cabinet’s approval to scrap prison terms for possession of 30 grammes or less of marijuana was the “first in a series of actions that has to be taken to ensure the proposed changes are enacted.”

Government explained that before a Bill is sent to the National Assembly, it has to be approved by Cabinet. If there are any changes, it is sent to the Attorney General’s Chambers and after the final draft has been approved by Cabinet, it is added to the National Assembly’s Order Papers, read, debated and then voted on.

“The approval of the proposal therefore does not render it law; it is simply the first step,” the Ministry of the Presidency said.

That was in stark contrast to what government earlier Tuesday said: “Possession remains an offence; however, persons will not be sentenced to terms of imprisonment as obtained in the past.”

Government said it decided to abolish prison terms for 30 grammes or less of marijuana in keeping with the recommendations of the Caribbean Community Commission on Marijuana. This is the first of several steps that government intends to take as it considers the recently submitted Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Report on the usages of marijuana, “and in particular, usages by our Rastafarian brothers and sisters who require it for use in their worship and sacrament.”

However, the PPP labelled government’s move as a “transparent ploy” by the APNU+AFC Coalition as Cabinet is illegal and should have already resigned. That party said an amendment to Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) Act by Alliance For Change (AFC) backbencher, Michael Carrington was brought to the National Assembly since December 10, 2015.

“The Coalition Government refused to debate it,’ the PPP said.

Quoting President Granger as saying “This is not something that is a preoccupation of the Administration at the present time…I would not counsel the use of marijuana by young people or anybody”, the PPP accused the government of using the marijuana issue to “secure political mileage” and the reality is that the law has not been amended.

“Importantly too, without an act of Parliament, talk about removing custodial sentences for possession of small amounts of marijuana is nothing more than talk. It is not a promise fulfilled by the Coalition Government. It is a reminder that this is just another promise that was broken,” the PPP said.