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AFC demands amendment to law for no jail for small quantities of marijuana, amid APNU’s reluctance

The Parliament Building.

The Alliance For Change (AFC) on Tuesday- expressing its “outrage and deep concern” at this week’s sentencing of a man to three years for being in possession of less than one ounce of marijuana- intends to intensify its campaign to remove imprisonment as a form of punishment for the crime.

“The party renews its call to all legislators to move with alacrity in upgrading the laws of Guyana to ensure that custodial sentences for small quantities of marijuana are removed from the books in their entirety,” the party said in a statement following the jailing of 27 year old father and poultry farmer Carl Mangal for being in possession of eight grammes of marijuana.

As part of ratcheting up its campaign for softer penalties, that political party said it would soon begin planning  a e, a national symposium to be held in “the near future” to allow all stakeholders and sectors of society to deliberate and exchange views.

AFC Leader, Raphael Trotman told Demerara Waves Online News that his party intends to take to Cabinet a three-year old proposed amendment to the anti-narcotics law to scrap jail terms for small amounts of marijuana for personal consumption.

He said the 2015 Bill would be taken to Cabinet before Parliament goes into recess in August by which time his party would be able to determine its next move.

Trotman said his party also intends to rely on persuasive recommendations contained in a ‘Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Camp Street Prison Disturbances and Resultant Deaths on March 2 to 4, 2016’ that states judiciary, magistracy and legal sector “decriminalize possession of minimum amounts of marijuana for personal use”.

The Commission of Inquiry headed by Retired Justice James Patterson says authorities should avoid remanding “low-level, non-violent” drug offenders and instead “employ non-custodial sentences in all cases of possession- such as treatment, educational opportunities or community service- that are available to those involved in other types of offences.”

Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams recently said a number of studies point to the adverse effects of marijuana use. He favoured a referendum on the decriminalisation of small amounts of the herb that is regarded as a narcotic under Guyana’s Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances Act.

Williams is also already on record as saying that the proposed amendment by AFC parliamentarian, Michael Carrington needed to be taken to Cabinet first before it is sent to the National Assembly for debate.

Minister of State, Joseph Harmon has already virtually ruled out the softening of penalties for possession of tiny amounts of marijuana for personal use as well as the planting of industrial hemp which is a family to marijuana.

The AFC  made it clear that it was not questioning the decision of the magistrate in any way. “The AFC recognizes that the magistrate, as is the case with all her colleagues, are constrained by the law with regard to the issue of custodial sentencing for possession of small quantities of marijuana. “Custodial sentences serve, in large measure, to criminalize young people, particularly young men who have been caught with small quantities of marijuana – an offence which is a mere error in judgment and not representative of criminal behavior,” the party said.

AFC Member of Parliament Michael Carrington, since 2015, brought a bill to the National Assembly for debate but it has since been languishing on the order paper, being deferred time and time again.

“The time to act is now. We must no longer sit idly by and allow our young men and women to be sentenced to several years of jail time alongside hardened criminals, murderers and rapists.

We will not be found complicit in destroying the lives of our young people and wounding our society rather than acting to heal it,” the AFC added.

A Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Commission on Marijuana that visited several member states including Guyana is expected to table its report to Caribbean leaders this year.

Jamaica, and Antigua and Barbuda are among a small number of Caribbean nations that have lightened penalties for the possession of minuscule quantities of marijuana, popularly called ganja.