Gov’t moving to repeal jail sentences for small amounts of ganja – Granger

President David Granger has said that the removal of custodial sentences for possession of small amounts of cannabis is on the cards for Guyana.

“We are moving towards the removal of custodial sentences for the possession of small amounts of marijuana,” Granger, who was in Jamaica, was quoted as saying in Friday’s edition of the Guyana Chronicle. At the same time, the report said he also made it clear that there will be no industrialisation of marijuana production in Guyana.

The president made the comments on the same day that State Minister Joseph Harmon said that government’s position on the possession of cannabis will depend on the final report of the CARICOM Regional Commission on Marijuana and the findings of a Ministry of Health survey.

Harmon told reporters at a post-Cabinet press briefing that government was still gathering information and would rely on the two documents before it comes to a definitive conclusion.

CARICOM Heads of Government gathered in Jamaica were considering the recommendations contained in the Com-mission’s report, which in part calls for the dismantling of the mechanism that prohibits its use in its entirety.

When asked for government’s position, Harmon responded, “…We are looking at sentencing guidelines… we are waiting also on a report from the Ministry of Public Health, who has done a survey and I believe before the end of July Cabinet will be given that report and then we will look and see what the CARICOM study had revealed and what guidance it provides for us in Guyana.”

He noted that the CARICOM report will provide guidance to countries as to how they proceed.

Harmon, while noting that the sentencing guidelines are also under active consideration, stressed that government was still gathering information before making decisions that are going to affect our Guyanese citizens on a long term basis.

“Here in Guyana, we have issues that [are] still a little complex,” he said, while adding that the work done by the Health Ministry will be useful.

Concerns have been raised about the lengthy sentences given to persons caught with small amounts. In many cases, such persons receive the same sentence as those caught with large quantities of either cannabis or cocaine.

In wake of the widespread outrage that was triggered in May by the sentencing of Carl Mangal to three years in jail for the possession of 8.4 grammes of cannabis for trafficking, both parliamentarian Michael Carrington and the Alliance For Change (AFC) renewed calls for the repeal of heavy custodial sentences for possession of small quantities.

Mangal has since appealed his sentence and he has been released on bail.

Carrington, meanwhile, is moving to have a revised version of a bill in his name to amend the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) Act read in the National Assembly before it goes into recess next month.

Prior to the president’s statement, AFC coalition partner A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) had not said whether it will support the bill in the National Assembly.

Though Carrington had suggested that it was APNU that delayed a debate of the previous bill after it was tabled, Harmon, who is the APNU Chairman, has declined to respond to the assertion. He said that the issue is not about APNU and AFC, but about a member of the government’s side who has filed a bill which is “being dealt with by the government side. That’s the position.”

Attorney-General and APNU member Basil Williams had said that there should be a public vote on the issue, an opinion that Carrington, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo and the Guyana Rastafarian Council disagree with.

Carrington had called the suggestion silly before pointing out that those who don’t smoke and who may be in the majority will vote against it while the people who do smoke will vote for it.

Jagdeo, while rejecting the notion of a referendum, has said members of the PPP/C would be allowed to vote according to their conscience if the bill is ever put to a vote in the National Assembly.

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