A chorus representing a broad spectrum of individuals grows larger and louder with each passing day, which believes that incarcerating citizens, especially those from poor communities, for possessing or using small amounts of marijuana is unjust, unproductive and unwise. It is time that we normalize and reform the laws pertaining to marijuana use and implement the rehabilitation and treatment provisions as contained in sections 65 to 72 of the 1988 Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) Act (NDPA).
While we applaud, and view as essential, the efforts of Michael Carrington, a Member of Parliament, to propose and bring to the National Assembly, legislation to amend sections of the NDPA, these moves do not address sufficiently the issue and would require a more comprehensive reform of the current system.
For instance, certain exemptions from fines and prosecution should be extended to those who use marijuana for religious purposes. These would include as a sacrament in adherence to the Rastafarian faith and for events to celebrate/observe the Rastafarian faith. Other exemptions should encompass medical or therapeutic purposes as recommended or prescribed by a registered medical doctor; for purposes of scientific research conducted by an accredited tertiary institution; and for international visitors to purchase lawfully for medical or therapeutic purposes. Moreover, the establishment of a licensing authority should regulate these recommendations, issue licences and permits and ensure that regulations do not contravene Guyana’s international obligations.
Additionally, while the NDPA contains legal provisions for strengthening mental health and counselling institutions and services with the establishment of rehabilitation centres, a ‘Rehabilitation Fund’ and an ‘Advisory Council for Rehabilitation of Narcotic Addicts’, too few rehab centres have been set up across the country. In addition, no actions have yet been carried out to conform with the law as it relates to the rehabilitation fund and the advisory council. In this regard, the NDPA should contain specific clauses mandating the government to direct a percentage of revenues towards implementing these mandates.
It is our collective obligation as Guyanese citizens to step forward and support efforts to help end the punitive measures that have resulted in more harm than good to our society and which have caused many families much excessive pain and suffering, in both emotional and financial impacts. We hope that everyone will join us as we intensify an enlightened approach of advocacy for a more just and sensible legal framework when it comes to the issues and circumstances of marijuana use and rehabilitation services.
Ras Leon Saul
for Society of Marijuana Advocates for Reform and Treatment (SMART)