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AFC bent on removing jail terms for small amounts of marijuana possession

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

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

The Alliance For Change (AFC) is insisting that Guyana’s narcotics law be amended to  scrap jail terms for  the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use, and  the opposition People’s Progressive Party-Civic’s (PPPC) parliamentarians are expected to vote with their conscience instead of along strictly party line.

AFC Leader and Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan told reporters that his party was firmly behind the amendment, but he did not know what was A Partnership for National Unity’s (APNU) position. “I can’t say, but I can say for the AFC members it’s fully supported. I think you can direct your question there to the APNU members,” he said when asked by Demerara Waves Online News whether the draft amendment is being supported by the AFC members.

Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams said government has not yet discussed the amendment to the Narcotics and Pyschotropic Substances Act that has been tabled by AFC parliamentarian, Michael Carrington. Williams last December told a meeting with Rastafarians at his office that the Carrington-sponsored Bill could not be tabled because the procedure requires that draft laws and related matters be considered by Cabinet.

Ramjattan said “we fully support hat Michael Carrrington amendment” but he could not say when it would be debated because it first has to be approved by Cabinet.

However, Carrington said as far he was aware there was no need for a private member’s Bill to be taken to Cabinet first before it is debated. Carrington said after the parliamentary recess ends he would push for it to be debated so that persons caught with small amounts of marijuana would not be jailed. The law provides for as much as five years imprisonment.

Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo said following talks with AFC Chairman, Nigel Hughes the issue of reducing penalties for the possession of small amounts of marijuana was discussed in the PPP and a decision has been taken to allow parliamentarians to vote on it as they see fit. “We said we will allow a conscience vote. Those PPP MPs (members of parliament) who want to support it can support it and those don’t want to support it will not need to support it,” he said.

Jagdeo expressed concern that many youths caught smoking a “joint” are eventually jailed for several years instead of being sent to rehab centres or ordered to provide community service.  He suggested that the jails were being overcrowded by such petty offenders. “We can use our prison space for more serious crimes,” he said.

The Opposition Leader restated his party’s 2015 general elections campaign position that the PPP does not support the growth, production, sale or export of marijuana.

Carrington estimates that it costs the State at least GYD$1.2 million per year to feed and maintain a prisoner.

  • Emile_Mervin

    I don’t use marijuana, but I find it incongruous with reality that a plant made by God (man may grow a marijuana plant, but God is the Source of all plant life dating back to creation) can land a man behind bars, while tobacco and alcohol are legal everywhere and the latter two destroy more lives than marijuana every year.

    According to the American Cancer Society, “Tobacco use kills more than 6 million people annually, 30 percent of whom will die from cancer-related diseases due to smoking. If current trends continue, tobacco use will kill 8 million people annually by 2030, 83 percent of whom reside in low- and middle-income countries.”

    According to the National Institute on Alcohol and Abuse and Alcoholism, “Alcohol-Related Deaths: Nearly 88,000 people (approximately 62,000 men and 26,000 women9) die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the United States. In 2014, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities accounted for 9,967 deaths (31 percent of overall driving fatalities).”

    According to Huffington Post, the rate of absolutely zero deaths from a marijuana overdose remained steady from 2014 to 2015, according to figures released last December by the Centers for Disease Control.

    This does not mean that marijuana does not affect a user’s psychological or physiological make-up or that there are no marijuana-related deaths, but when we look at the impact of cigarette and alcohol on society versus the impact of marijuana on society, cigarette and alcohol users should be in jail in greater number.

    Bottom line: stop jailing individuals caught with less than a negligible amount of marijuana on their person, while making it clear in the law that smoking marijuana in public is prohibited.

  • Ah Nanimus

    If all the men who smoked a little pot were released there would be enough room in prison for all the crooked politicians past and present. 98%, at least, would be in jail.

  • Col123

    The issue can be resolved based on the use of this substance . Guyana needs to establish whether the use can be classified in term of medicinal , religious or recreational… the usual categories. The categories can then be controlled by the govt with specific regulations for each category as with Scheduled drugs(narcotics, barbiturates,etc). The sale should be controlled by licensed agents (Pharmacists) and the appropriate taxes collected. Cultivation should require license and govt oversight. Now, the kicker going forward would be hard labor for illegal planting and illegal selling. Penalty should be building one mile of roadway between indigenous Amerindian villages , and increased miles with each future conviction.

  • Col123

    Bro… Your comments are a bit convoluted . The medical benefits of marijuana are limited and require strict supervision by specialty licensee … unless for terminal situation .The reasearch studies are slanted to favor its use in most cases… Their findings are highly questionable . The Feds still make it illegal to possess. Some states approve its use under tight restrictions ….sure there are taxes to fill the state coffers..You cannot take it another state where it is illegal…
    The mixing of religious beliefs with science is for is not compatible !..period.

  • Col123

    “Evidence regarding marijuana benefits is clear”..will not argue that some are clear under prescribed settings… beyond that, you need to review more studies and outcomes …you must believe that smoking tobacco is also beneficial..marijuana inhalation has health consequences..but if you are into voodoo medicine and voodoo economics..good luck with your school of thought…

  • Col123

    Get a medical degree and come back.

  • Col123

    Get a medical degree and come back..will at least hear from you with some credentials.