Caretaker Govt approves removal of custodial sentence for small amounts of marijuana
…PPP says Cabinet resigned by law
…has no authority to issue order
The surprise announcement on Tuesday that a ‘Cabinet’ ordered the removal of custodial sentences for persons found in possession of small amounts of marijuana has been described by the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) as both misleading and for political mileage.
This is because Cabinet, by law, was supposed to resign after the Government was defeated by a No-Confidence Motion in the National Assembly last year.
According to the release from Government, 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 PPP, in a statement soon after the announcement, denounced the Government’s actions as nothing more than a “political gimmick”, intended by A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance for Change (APNU/AFC) to trick persons and boost their chances at the early elections that are inevitable.
According to the PPP, the APNU/AFC coalition Government is currently illegal and Cabinet should have already resigned, consistent with Article 106 (6) of the Constitution and the recent ruling of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). “How then, is Cabinet meeting and making decisions? Does the coalition not intend to comply with the ruling of the Caribbean Court of Justice?” the party questioned.
It reminded that the provisions of Article 106 (6) and (7) are clear. It went on to reference the ruling of CCJ President, Justice Adrian Saunders, in the No-Confidence Motion challenge case.
“Justice Saunders’ ruling [paragraph three] adds that: “Article 106(6) of the Constitution states that the cabinet, including the president, shall resign if the Government is defeated by the vote of a majority of all the elected members of the National Assembly ‘on a vote of confidence,” the party said.
“Additionally, the David Granger-led coalition has had over four years to address the issue of removing custodial sentences for possession of small quantities of marijuana. It failed to do so. The Narcotics Drug and Psychotropic Substances (Control) (Amendment) Bill – a bill to remove custodial sentences for possession of small amounts of marijuana – was brought to the National Assembly since December 10, 2015. The coalition Government refused to debate it.”
The party reminded that instead, in May 2016, President Granger declared that: “This is not something that is a preoccupation of the administration at the present time…I would not counsel the use of marijuana by young people or anybody.”
According to the PPP, such an announcement is not enforceable without an Act of Parliament. As such, it noted that any talk in the current circumstances of removing custodial sentences is “nothing more than talk”.
“It is not a promise fulfilled by the coalition Government. It is a reminder that this is just another promise that was broken. Further, the position of the People’s Progressive Party/ Civic (PPP/C) on this issue has been clear for years now”.
The issue of reviewing possession of quantities of marijuana, the party added, which attracts a mandatory, minimum jail sentence, was included in the PPP/C 2015 manifesto and this issue has been used repeatedly by the APNU/AFC Coalition “to secure political mileage, nothing more”.
Still an offence
Meanwhile, in its release, the Government had said that narcotics possession remains an offence, but persons will not be sentenced to prison as obtained in the past.
“This is the first of several steps that Government intends to take as it considers the recently submitted Caribbean Community (Caricom) Report on the usages of marijuana, and in particular, usages by our Rastafarian brothers and sisters who require it for use in their worship and sacrament”.
In the wake of confusion over social media regarding what the directive meant, Government subsequently sent out another statement in which it stated that this is just the first step in the process towards removal of custodial sentences. And it stressed that possession was still illegal.
“The draft amendments of the Narcotics Drug and Psychotropic Substances (Control) (Amendment) Bill 2015 were presented to Cabinet meeting in Linden on April 30th, 2019. However, there was a process involved, following which, this information has now been made public. This is the first in a series of actions that have to be taken to ensure the proposed changes are enacted”.
“Before a Bill is sent to the National Assembly, it has to be approved by Cabinet. If there are any changes, it is sent to the Attorney General’s Chambers. However, once the final draft has been approved by Cabinet, it is added to the National Assembly’s Order Papers, read, debated and then voted on. The approval of the proposal therefore does not render it law; it is simply the first step”.