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AFC parliamentarian to table amendment to scrap mandatory imprisonment for marijuana

Vibert Butts

The Alliance For Change (AFC)- one of the parties in the governing coalition- is preparing to seek parliament’s approval to scrap mandatory imprisonment for 15 grammes or more of marijuana.

It is unclear whether the broader coalition administration would support the Bill when it comes up for debate in the House because only this week Attorney General, Basil Williams cited the need for public consultations on the decriminalisation of marijuana.

AFC Vice Chairman, Nigel Hughes said on his Facebook Profile that coalition parliamentarian Michael Carrington would on Thursday, December 17, 2015 present a Bill which intends to remove the provisions of the Narcotic Drug and Psychotropic Substances Control Act 1988 which oblige Magistrates to imprison any citizen of Guyana who confesses to or has been found guilty of possession of such amounts of marijuana.

Ahead of the likelihood that any of the other 31 APNU+AFC coalition parliamentarians decide to put a brake on the Carrington-sponsored amendment, Hughes already differed. He said the issue was not about decriminalizing the possession of marijuana but about jailing offenders for a non-violent crime.

“The former is a simply a matter of whether in 2015 in a democratic society it is acceptable to imprison your citizens for three to five years for possession of 15 grams of cannabis, smoking cannabis or possession of smoking utensils for cannabis. It is an issue of proportionality of the punishment for a non violent self regarding act,” said Hughes, a prominent criminal, civil and human rights lawyer.

Hughes acknowledged the need for consultations on the decriminalisation of marijuana possession but argued that “to continue to lock up and jail our citizens for three to five years for possession of a joint is cruel, excessive, unusual and inhumane treatment.”

The Attorney-at-Law pointed out that persons accused of attempted murder, rape, pedophilia, felonious wounding, incest, corruption and fraud are  not subject to automatic statutory denial of bail or on conviction, subject to mandatory minimum periods of imprisonment.

“We trust the judiciary to exercise their judgment in imposing appropriate sentences but this confidence rapidly evaporates if you are in possession of 15 grams or more of cannabis. It is my hope that on Thursday we separate the issues and treat with them differently,” he said.

The issue of marijuana decriminalisation or the scrapping of mandatory custodial penalties has taken centre stage during the past three weeks following the imprisonment of former Guyana national footballer, Vibert ‘Durdy’ Butts for possession of 46 grammes of marijuana and a smoking utensil.

Butts, who is Guyana’s first World Cup football scorer, was convicted and jailed for three years by a Lower Court on November 25, 2015. He has since been granted GYD$350,000 bail pending the outcome of an appeal to the High Court.

President David Granger has been pardoning persons for non-violent offences such as theft, telling them to “go and sin no more.” A number of the 60 persons who have been released have enrolled in a US-sponsored skills training and entrepreneurial scheme.