Marijuana law reform should not be addressed by referendum

Dear Editor,

I refer to reports in the Guyanese media that according to the Attorney General, the Honourable, Basil Williams, removal of laws that restrict marijuana use should be given a public vote. This is a classical case of what is called in local parlance “kicking the bucket down the road” or in American “passing the buck”.

Basic students of democracy know that there are serious limitations to referendums and they do not often yield the best results for all in the society (just ask Britain in the case of Brexit) especially minorities.  Three of the most common arguments made against the use of referendums are that it weakens representative democracy by undermining the role and importance of elected representatives to make decisions, are  a means available to elected representatives to avoid having to take an unpopular position on an issue and voters do not always have the capacity or information to make informed decisions about the issue at stake, and instead may make ill-informed decisions based on partial knowledge or on the basis of unrelated factors such religious, ethnic or other prejudices (again ask Britain about Brexit). There is also what is called the tyranny of the majority where “a government or other authority democratically supported by a majority of its population makes policies or takes actions benefiting that majority, without regard for the rights or welfare of minorities”.

It would seems that most of the above applies to the Guyanese context regarding the marijuana issue. Therefore on behalf of the rastafari community in Guyana and others that want marijuana law reform we say to the Honourable Minister , “Man Up”, like the Honourable Gaston Browne in Antigua and Barbuda and the Honourable Andrew Holness in Jamaica and do the right thing. This is not an issue that should be addressed by referendum but by simple policy analysis including the historical context and origin of the narcotic laws, cost benefits analysis of government expenditure and the social cost and benefits to the society and an impact analysis of the policy on some members of the society and the Guyanese society in general.

Yours faithfully,

(Name and address supplied)

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