Guyana should update its marijuana legislation like Jamaica

Dear Editor,

 

With the current debate regarding marijuana legislation and sentencing policy in Guyana, I here share how Jamaica has recently updated its legislation and changed its policy with regard to marijuana. Earlier this year Jamaica enacted the Dangerous Drug (Amendment) Act 2015 that decriminalized the possession of under 2 ounces of marijuana, making it a ticketable offence instead. A brief summary of the legislation shows:

  1. Possession of 2 ounces or less of ganja is no longer an offence for which one can be arrested, charged and have to go to court, and it will not result in a criminal record. (2 ounces = 56.7 grammes)
  2. However, the police may issue a ticket to a person in possession of 2 ounces or less of ganja , similar to a traffic ticket, and the person has 30 days to pay the sum of J$500 at any tax office.
  3. It remains a criminal offence to be in possession of over 2 ounces of ganja, and offenders can be arrested, charged, tried in court and, if found guilty, sentenced to a fine or to imprisonment or both. The conviction will also be recorded on that person’s criminal record.
  4. The smoking of ganja at privately occupied residences that are not used for commercial purposes is not an offence, but is governed by the rules on possession of ganja referred to in 1 above. (As such, persons having less than 2 ounces of marijuana in their homes will not be given a ticket.)

The Jamaica legislation aptly addressed the concern raised by the Minister of Public Health George Norton with regard to Guyana’s impending anti-tobacco legislation (Jamaica has already passed stringent anti-tobacco legislation), where it states ‒

  1. a) The smoking of ganja in a public place or within five metres of a public place is prohibited in a manner similar to cigarettes.
  2. b) A person who smokes in public cannot be arrested or detained. However, the police may issue a ticket to that person, who will have 30 days to pay $500 at any tax office.
  3. c) For the purposes of these smoking rules, a public place includes a workplace, and any place which is for the use of, or accessible to, the public, such as sidewalks, bus stops, restaurants, offices, educational institutions, pharmacies, hospitals, areas used by children, supermarkets and parks.

Please find link to factsheet about Jamaica’s Dangerous Drug (Amendment) Act 2015. (http://moj.gov.jm/sites/default/files/Dangerous%20Drugs%20Amendment%20Act%202015%20Fact%20Sheet_0.pdf )

The legislation goes further, addressing the medical and religious use of marijuana, and the cultivation and scientific research of marijuana, among others.

I conclude that Guyana adopting a similar approach would result in several positive outcomes:

  • It would recognize the changing trend in United States (where some states have legalised marijuana use) and Europe, as the global order began to recognize some of the failures of the war on drugs.
  • It would free up police resources (time, manpower and money) to fight serious crime.
  • It would reduce the clutter at the Magistrate Court, which should result in the quicker dispensation of justice.
  • It would reduce the cost of imprisonment, thus saving the state millions of dollars.
  • It would stop young persons from getting a criminal record that could be an albatross around their necks for the rest of their lives as they find it challenging to get into the workforce.
  • It will reduce the likelihood of young persons becoming hardened criminals, as is usually the case when they spend time in prison mixing with these elements.
  • It will raise revenue through the imposition of fines. To be successful, I believe the fine should be small enough not to induce police corruption, but still act as a deterrent. I would recommend between $1000-$2000. At today’s rate the Jamaican fine of J$500 is equivalent to $865.07.

 

Yours faithfully,

Dexter Cummings

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