Four persons convicted of narcotics possession charges were granted an early release from President David Granger in commemoration of today’s Emancipation celebrations.
According to a statement from the Public Security Ministry on Wednesday, the presidential pardons, which take effect today, were done by virtue of the powers vested in the Head of State under Article 188 of the Constitution of Guyana.
Article 188 (1) (a) of the Constitution of Guyana states that the President has the power to grant any person concerned in, or convicted of, any offence under the laws of Guyana, a pardon, either free or subject to lawful condition.
The four pardon beneficiaries are: Robert Bhagnauth, age 39; Michael Gouveia, age 23; Andy Roberts, age 38; and Joseph Yaw, age 54. They have all served a portion of their sentences for possession of cannabis.
According to the missive, these men were considered to be “fit and proper” to receive such pardons by the President.
The early release of these four men comes at a time when the caretaker coalition Government has taken steps to remove custodial sentences for possession of small amounts of marijuana. About a month ago, Government said in a statement that after extensive discussions and reviews, “Cabinet has approved a proposal to remove custodial sentences for persons found to be in possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana”.
The issue of non-custodial sentences for small amounts of marijuana gained momentum back in March 2016 when inmates at the Georgetown Prison 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 reignited to reduce custodial sentences for certain offences such as possession of small amounts of marjiuana.
Last year, however, Government had come under fire for failing 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 in May 2018.
According to Guyana’s law, possession of any amount of cannabis over 15 grams is considered trafficking. At the time, former 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 quantities. Harmon had further posited that any Legislative reform on penalties for marijuana use and possession will have to be done with widespread public consultations.