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Attorney General favours softer marijuana penalty; coalition parliamentarian cannot unilaterally propose amendment to narcotics act

Attorney General Basil Williams (in foreground) meeting members of the Rastafarian community at his office on Carmichael Street, Georgetown.

Attorney General, Basil Williams Wednesday said he was not opposed to non-custodial sentences for very small amounts of marijuana, but a government parliamentarian on his own could not table legislation to change the law.

“I think I have been an advocate for that, that certainly possession of certain amounts  should not attract custodial sentences…I thought in marginal cases considerations could be given for non-custodial sentences,” he said in response to a question by Demerara Waves Online News.

Alliance For Change (AFC) parliamentarian, Michael Carrington was Thursday, December 16, 2015 expected to table the amendment to remove 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.

But Williams told reporters after a meeting with representatives of the Rastafarian community that the Carrington-sponsored Bill could not be tabled because the procedure requires that draft laws and related matters be considered by Cabinet. “That Bill hasn’t come to the House under the hand of the government and Cabinet has not discussed the matter, it has not been discussed in Cabinet sub-committee which is headed by the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister is the Leader of (Government Business) in the House and he had no idea about the Bill, the nature of the Bill, the contents of the Bill,” the Attorney General said.

Based on existing rules, he said the Bill would not be brought to House at this time.

He, however, hoped that the Bill that was drafted for Carrington to introduce to the National Assembly would serve as a catalyst in moving ahead with addressing the issue.

The Attorney General said the issue of softer penalties or the decriminalization of marijuana for medicinal, religious and other uses would have to be the subject of nationwide consultations.

Williams credited the Rastafarian representatives with making impressive representations and insights during their more than one hour long meeting. The Rastafarians want government to scrap jail terms for persons convicted for being in possession of two ounces or 56 grammes of marijuana for personal use.

Brother Reuben of the Twelve Tribes of Israel said the Rastafarian community hopes that public consultations will eventually yield a positive result that will allow them to be in possession of two ounces of marijuana for religious purposes. “We know it’s a national issue and from us, as Rastafarian—I love the ganja, I can’t lie about that. I love the ganja. From the 70s I smoke the ganja. Ganja don’t make nobody mad. Ganja is good,” he said.

President of the Guyana Rastafari Council, Ras Simeon emphasised that the criminalization of marijuana possession amounted to a violation of their constitutionally guaranteed religious and cultural rights. “It is a crime and a great crime for a government to stand between a people and their religion and culture and to make laws and set institutions to suffocate and strangle I-and-I for so long,” he said.

Cabinet is to be briefed on the matter.