Non-custodial sentence for small quantity of marijuana a certainty – President

first_imgAmidst mounting pressure for the decriminalisation of small quantities of marijuana, President David Granger has assured that Government will soon present the legislative for non-custodial sentences.“We have taken a decision in principle that custodial sentences for the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use would be legally abolished. After the National Assembly comes off of recess, we could look forward to that legislation being passed,” the Head of State told reporters at a press conference on Friday.He went on to note that Cabinet has already collectively agreed to pursue this and that there should be no difficulty in implementing it.The Alliance For Change (AFC) – the minority party in the coalition Government – has been pushing for legislative reform with regards to the narcotics law, which currently imposes a minimum sentence of three years and a maximum sentence of five years on narcotics traffickers.In fact, AFC parliamentarian Michael Carrington, had filed a motion seeking to soften penalties for marijuana possession. The draft bill had stipulated that persons who are found in possession of the drug for personal use would be required to pay a fine of $10,000, or perform community service for a period of time.However, that motion was subsequently withdrawn for further amendments on sentencing and marijuana decriminalisation. It has since been placed on the Order Paper and is expected to receive the National Assembly’s attention when it comes out of recess in October.The issue of non-custodial sentences for small amounts of marijuana gained momentum back in March 2016 when inmates at the Georgetown Prisons started a fire which eventually killed 17 prisoners, while several others along with prison staff were injured. A subsequent probe had found, among other issues, significant overcrowding at the facility contributed to the events and as such, considerations were re-ignited to reduce custodial sentences for certain offences such as possession of small amounts of marijuana as a solution to reduce overcrowding within the prisons system.More recent, however, Government has also come under fire for failure to act on the matter after a 27-year-old poultry farmer, who was charged for possession of 8.4 grams of marijuana, was sentenced to three years imprisonment back in May. According to Guyana’s law, possession of any amount of cannabis over 15 grams is considered trafficking.At the time, Minister of State Joseph Harmon had explained that the Magistrates are operating within the confines of the Narcotic Drug and Psychotropic Substances Act, which does not allow discretion when dealing with narcotics of certain quantity. The Minister of State further posited that any legislative reform on penalties for marijuana use and possession will have to be done with widespread public consultations.“It is important that we understand that that’s what the law is. The Magistrates cannot make the law in the Magistrate’s Court, then to apply it and so if it is that the law needs to be amended, it is needs to be changed that is the responsibility of the legislative branch,” Harmon had asserted.Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has announced his support for custodial sentences for small quantities of marijuana to be removed from the law books in their entirety, but maintained that he is not in favour of the legalisation of marijuana for commercial purposes.Jagdeo reminded that the People’s Progressive Party has made a commitment to support a ‘conscience vote’ should the matter come up for a vote in the National Assembly.The decriminalisation/legalisation of marijuana movement is gaining much momentum worldwide, with several countries taking steps to decriminalise and legalise the drug.In fact, a Caribbean Community (Caricom) Commission on Marijuana has made recommendation for the decriminalisation of marijuana across Member States, saying that the substance can be controlled and regulated as in the case of alcohol. This recommendation was placed before the 39th Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caricom, which was held in Jamaica in July. During the conference, it was recognised that Member States would need to review the report in more detail to determine action at the national level in relation to law reform models as proposed by the Commission.last_img read more