The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Amendment) Bill was on Monday night passed in the National Assembly. The passage of the amendment was well received by some members of the house, while others called for more effort to be made against young people abusing the drug.
While countries in the Caribbean and the world have taken steps to decriminalize Marijuana, the amendment does not decriminalise the possession of the drug. Possession still remains a criminal offence. Instead, the amendment addresses non-custodial sentences for persons who are caught with less than 30 grams of Marijuana.
Monday night’s amendment saw the removal of custodial sentences for the offense of possession of marijuana. This means that instead of jail time, persons caught with one to 15 grams of marijuana will undergo counseling. Those nabbed with more than 15 grams of marijuana but no more than 30 grams of the drug will be ordered to do community service instead of serving a prison sentence.
Attorney General Anil Nandlall explained that because of the changing views globally about Marijuana, and the public outcry for alternative sentencing for small amounts in possession, the government took a decision after years of consultation with key stakeholders.
“A responsible government has to skillfully navigate these competing interests in an effort to find that delicate, acceptable equilibrium in order to satisfy, placate or pacify, while at the same time accommodating these viciously competing interests,” Nandlall told the National Assembly.
Minister of Home Affairs, Robeson Benn had a different opinion on the bill. While supporting alternative sentencing, Minister Benn’s concerns were about the use of the drug among young people. He pointed out that the cultivation of the drug remains a problem for law enforcement. He called on the house to further look at legislation that could address the issue of drug abuse among youth’s.
On Monday morning, the Guyana Rastafarian Council staged a “Ganja Rally” opposite the Arthur Chung Convention Centre. General Secretary of the Council Ras Khafra told the Guyana Standard that the council would be moving to the courts to address the issue of the community being allowed to use Marijuana for their sacrament.
Minister Nandlall said that during consultation with stakeholders, many persons welcomed the idea of alternative sentencing but posited that the drug remains a criminal offence in the interest of public health and safety. He noted that the challenge was taking into consideration that there are religious views about the use of Marijuana.