Repeal mandatory custodial sentencing for small amounts of marijuana

Dear Editor, 

In the book Freakonomics, written by two economists (Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner) who dig through seemingly unrelated data, the phenomenon of rising crime statistics in the early 1990s in New York City, specifically murders by teenagers, was discussed.

Despite their best efforts, the city of New York had grappled with increasing crime rates for many years. Increased penalties, tougher policing methods and others strategies failed to arrest (pun intended) the crime situation.

Then circa 2000, the stats began falling and continued falling. Nothing significant had changed that year that could explain the sudden but welcomed decrease in crime.

The two economists took a broader view and tried to find out what situation or circumstance was responsible for the change.

Roe V. Wade

In 1973 the Supreme Court of the United States passed landmark legislation making it legal for women across the United States to legally terminate pregnancies.

Harsh as it seems, the resulting effects of the legislation did not become apparent until 2000.

The economists suggested that the change to allow legal termination of pregnancies resulted in hundreds or possibly thousands of unwanted pregnancies, many of whom would have been born into the socioeconomic conditions that foster or encourage a life of crime, simply were not born.

So by 2000 many of the persons that would have reached the age of maturity and entered the criminal networks were not here to do so. 

This is a harsh lesson, but a lesson nonetheless.

The law in Guyana stipulates mandatory custodial sentences (3 to 5 years) for persons found with small amounts of marijuana.

We have read many stories about young men and women who are now locked away in prison for 3 years or more for being in possession of a simple spliff/joint. I remember a case of a nursing mother in Albouystown who was sentenced to 3 years for possession of marijuana. In her case, the drug was not found on her, it was in the shop that she managed or owned. 

I can go on to list dozens of other cases, including the most recent, of the father of 3 that caught the nation’s attention. But, more than the personal impact on the mother or father or the kids that are left behind, what is the impact that this archaic and oppressive law has on our society?

In a developing country like ours, where single parenting is already too common and its adverse effects already well documented – what effect has this law had on families across this country?

What effect has it had on the young men and women that have been imprisoned for 3 years? What rehabilitation programmes do we have to help then re-enter society as productive, contributing members?

I am not in possession of hard evidence, but I would be more than willing to wager that a check into the background of many bandits that terrorize us today will reveal a stint in jail for possession of marijuana.

Is their life of crime in later years directly linked to their incarceration or the difficulties they encountered thereafter?

These are issues that must be thoughtfully examined by our leaders. It must be more than a talking point for 2020, it must come from a sincere place, from someone who has the foresight to see the long-term impact this law has on our youth and our society. 

I’m calling on all our leaders to repeal the current law of mandatory custodial sentencing for small amounts of marijuana. 

We must, as a society, find a better way. 

Yours faithfully,

Michael Leonard

AFC Region 4 Chairman


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