Custodial sentences for 30 grammes or less of cannabis will be removed
– as Narcotic Drugs & Psychotropic Substances Control (Amendment) Bill passed
Amendments to the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Control (Amendment) Bill of 2021 were passed on Monday evening in the National Assembly, paving the way for the removal of custodial sentences for persons in possession of 30 grammes or less of cannabis.
Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Anil Nandlall, SC, who moved the bill to be read for the second time, informed the National Assembly that the amendment is a commitment made by the People’s Progressive Party/Civic Government in its manifesto.
The attorney general, however, made it clear that a promise was never made to decriminalise marijuana in Guyana.
“Today we are delivering on that promise but the journey that we travelled to arrive where we have arrived today has not been an easy one. We believe in a process that is as consultative as possible and on an issue like this which has a history of being controversial where you have different segments of our society, all who are entitled to equal treatment, all of whom who are entitled to fair treatment […] a responsible government therefore has to therefore skillfully navigate these competing interests in an effort to find that delicate, acceptable equilibrium in order to satisfy,” Minister Nandlall said.
The legislation was first presented to the National Assembly by the Attorney General on January 28, 2021 and was forwarded to a Special Select Committee to conduct widespread consultations. The committee comprised three government and four opposition members.
However, the APNU+AFC opposition did not participate in the consultation process.
“The Opposition, as is their norm, hardly attended the meetings, […] we had to issue public statements criticising them for non-attendance and it is reflected in the report and when they attended, they did not have much constructive contributions to make…. As we are trying to navigate these difficult questions, we are not getting any help from the opposition but they will be the first to condemn…”
Deputy Speaker Lennox Shuman commended the government for tabling the piece of legislation and expressed full support to the amendments.
The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Control (Amendment) Bill was also supported by the Minister of Home Affairs Robeson Benn and Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport, Charles Ramson Jr.
Minister Ramson said, “If we are to protect young people, we cannot punish young people by putting them in prison for a joint.”
This sentiment was also expressed by Member of Parliament Sanjeev Datadin.
“The focus of imprisonment is reduced, exposure to jail sentences is reduced, the opportunity for help is advanced and helping young people is perhaps the best and most responsible way to steer them in the right direction,” Datadin stated.
Although custodial sentences will be removed, persons found with one to 15 grammes of cannabis will be required to undergo mandatory counselling while persons found with one to 30 grammes of cannabis will be subjected to community service under the Extra-Mural Work Act for a period not exceeding six months.
The Act will see an offender who breaches the mandatory counselling and community service paying a fine of $250,000.
The amendments intend to reduce recidivism, prison overcrowdings and the burden on the criminal justice system, save state funds, and ultimately rebuild lives, families and communities affected and disadvantaged by the fining and incarceration of persons, especially youths, for the possession and use of small amounts of cannabis (marijuana).
This forms part of government’s commitment to reducing overcrowding of prisons by alternative sentencing for offences.