Govt tables Bill to remove prison time for up to 30 grams ganja
The Government on Thursday tabled in the National Assembly the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) (Amendment) Bill 2021, which if passed, will see persons in possession of 15 grams of cannabis or less sentenced to counselling.
This Bill is currently with a Special Select Committee for further consultations.
“Under the new subsection (2A), the possession of a quantity of cannabis or any substance held out to be cannabis which does not exceed 15 grams is punishable by mandatory counselling for a period to be determined by the counsellor,” the Bill reads.
Currently, possession of 15 grams or more could attract a trafficking charge with a prison sentence of three to five years, and a fine of no less than $30,000 or three times the market value of the drug.
Under the Bill, possession of 15 grams or less of cannabis is an offence of simple possession. An amount over 15 grams, but no more than 30 grams, will attract community service. This includes employment in public work under the Extra-Mural Work Act for a maximum of six months.
“Public work is defined by section 2 of the Extra-Mural Work Regulations, Reg 8 of 1998, to include any work on State or Government land or any property belonging to, or rented or leased to the State or with the permission of a local government authority, on any land or any other property belonging to, or rented or leased to, the local government authority.”
The Bill also increases the quantity of cannabis that would automatically attract a trafficking charge from 15 grams to more than 30 grams. It also removes the fine and prison term for smoking, inhaling, sniffing, or otherwise using cannabis or for being found in a place used for that purpose, or being the owner, occupier, or concerned in the management of any place used for the preparation of cannabis for that purpose.
However, while the clause removes the fine and jail time for smoking cannabis in places where cigarette smoking is also banned, it imposes a $10,000 fine for a first offence and a $20,000 penalty for a second or subsequent offence.
The Bill also caters for those instances where an offender may refuse to consent or breach an order of mandatory counselling or community service. The amended Act would grant the court the discretion to order the offender to pay a fine of $250,000 where it sees fit.
The amendments are meant to reduce the burden on the justice system, and also covers issues like recidivism and prison overcrowding. This would not only save the State money, but would also help to keep families together and rebuild communities affected and disadvantaged by the incarceration of persons, especially youth.
Meanwhile, a Bill presented by Opposition Member of Parliament (MP), Sherod Duncan which sought to increase the amount subject to a trafficking charge from 15 to 500 grams was thrown out as Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall, SC, pointed out several flaws not only technically but policy-wise in that Bill.
He scrutinised the Opposition Bill at length and said that the drastic increase was unrealistic as the issue of trafficking was one that should receive special consideration.
“While the Opposition’s Bill suggests that possession of more than 500 grams of cannabis should be the threshold for the presumption of trafficking where the burden of proof is placed on the defendant, the preference should be an incremental increase after extensive consultation,” the Attorney General said.
Nandlall highlighted that the amendment currently proposed by the Government was similar to the trend in Caricom counterparts, except for Trinidad, Jamaica, and Antigua and Barbuda, which shows that while the possession of a small quantity is decriminalised, possession of any quantity above that amount activates the presumption of trafficking.
Not only is the Bill presented by the Opposition technically unsound and not fit for purpose, but Nandlall also noted that it was wholly inadequate to serve as a remedy to address the issue of reform to the legal regime dealing with marijuana. He explained that the Bill completely misses the mark by removing imprisonment as a penalty for all narcotics.
“This means there is no term of imprisonment for possession of destructive drugs such as cocaine or heroin. This has dire consequences both economically and socially for Guyana,” he noted.