Citizens should support amendments to Bill removing jail sentence for possession of a small amount of cannabis

Dear Editor

Bill No 17 of 2015 is intended to remove the sentence of 3 to 5 years in prison for a joint of cannabis or a small quantity for personal use; it has nothing to do with legalizing cannabis.

Millions of people in the world and maybe hundreds in Guyana have been sentenced to jail for 3 years or more because of smoking a joint, or having in their possession small quantities of cannabis for personal use.

Smoking a joint, or using cannabis for medicine or food, is considered illegal. It can only be seen as a crime against oneself, because it only can affect the person, who uses it. To stop persons from smoking, laws were passed by politicians to jail them, in order to send a message to prevent them from continuing with the habit, and to discourage others from smoking.

Why is a person jailed for smoking cannabis but not for drinking rum which has the same effect or worse? Why not a fine instead? Is it because the state receives taxes from rum and not from cannabis? Could the state not put systems in place to benefit from the world greatest plant? The answer is yes, but no.

Cannabis is one of the oldest cultivated plants dating back 12 thousand years, and its suppression came in the 19th century when science discovered its properties, its value and it competitiveness. As the 20th century came industrial tycoons through the politicians tried to demonize cannabis which has in it more good than bad. Many countries now are legalizing cannabis to capitalize on its benefits. The benefits do not lie in smoking, but in the manufacture of thousands of products.

I am tabling a bill to remove a jail sentence for a small quantity of cannabis, and that is when the demonization started. All violent crime became cannabis-related crime without any supporting evidence, as if it is cannabis that causes the criminal to become more criminal minded. From my experience in life a person has to have a criminal mindset to commit a crime.

I don’t smoke anything, because I have learned that the mouth is for eating and communication, but that does not mean that because I don’t smoke, I should sit and allow our young people to go to jail for a smoke. I decided to try something by tabling the bill which AFC Chairman Nigel Hughes prepared, and hope that the multitude would not tear it down. But I came to a wall, with old political culture written all over it, the old culture which prevents MPs from working in the interest of the people.

The amendments to Section 4 remove jail sentences for the possession of a small quantity of the narcotic, leaving the fine in place.

The amendment to Section 5 was intended to increase the amount of cannabis from 15 grams to 200 grams for possession, but after discussion with others, I notified the other government MPs by email that I intended to amend my proposed amendment of 200 grams and reduce it to 55 grams for possession. The proposed amendments to Section 12 are intended to prevent persons from being sentenced to one year for smoking or possession of a smoking utensil.

The amendments will reduce the prison population; reduce the time wasted in court; save the state one million for each person sentenced for the possession of a small quantity of cannabis; prevent persons from being corrupted by others in jail; and prevent broken homes.

It will also reduce lawyers’ fees because persons would rather plead guilty and pay the fine than pay the lawyers and waste time.

In section 72 of the Narcotic Drug and Psychotropic Substance Control Act, it is stated that if a person is an addict he or she should be sentenced to a rehabilitation centre, but what the court is doing is sentencing persons to jail, which I feel is wrong. I am asking our citizens to support the non-sentencing for a small quantity of cannabis for personal use.

Yours faithfully,

Michael Carrington, MP

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