To solve a problem, one must examine its surrounding circumstances to determine its cause. If the causative factors are numerous, the problem can be addressed by a gradual process, resolving those causes one at a time, for a gradually improved result. In Guyana, our societal, infrastructural and political problems are overwhelmingly numerous, and the causes and consequences are so inextricably intertwined as to put the Gordian knot to shame.
Two enormous problems in Guyana are the overload of the criminal justice system, and extreme overcrowding in appalling conditions in our prisons. One of the myriad causative factors is our approach to marijuana offences.
The reality in our society is that marijuana use is widespread. The stigma associated with cocaine use does not attach to marijuana, and far less moral culpability is associated with smoking weed. The Rastafarian community has campaigned futilely against successive governments to legalize cannabis. In rural areas, marijuana cultivation is widespread, and the large number of unemployed youth pass their idle hours by getting high. There could be more harmful ways for them to respond to their joblessness. In urban areas, marijuana is increasingly seen and used for recreational purposes by folk who turn up to work punctually every day and are productive members of society.
And despite that reality, our justice system imprisons our citizens for marijuana possession, even in small quantities. This draconian nonsense does not match the perceived offence in the eye of any right minded Guyanese, and shows an alarming disconnect between our society’s mores and the mores of the lawmakers sitting in Parliament. No citizen who is in touch with the reality of our society sits easy with the knowledge that the neighbour’s twenty year old son has been put away for three years because he was caught with some weed in his pocket. The law is unfair.
More practically, because the system is so harsh, a person charged with possession is not likely to appear in Court to simply plead guilty. When faced with the possibility of prison, that person will make every effort to fight in court to avoid a conviction, placing pressure on the court system to hear the trial, with time spent in adjournments, gathering of evidence, police witnesses and prosecutors, appeals, and the overload of the court system.
If the person is convicted, the real possibility is that our taxpayers’ dollar will have to pay the expense of supporting that person in prison for a number of years. Dozens of youths are in prison for nothing more than marijuana possession, and the prisons, already overcrowded, become unnecessarily more crowded as a result.
The small step of legalizing marijuana possession and use would be celebrated by the majority in our society as the removal of a tiny mote of repression, and the lifting of an unfair aspect of the judicial system. With that single step, dozens of pending actions before the Courts would be removed, and the overload of the Court system would be in a small measure relaxed. With that single step, dozens of youth languishing in our prison system could be reprieved, relieving the prisons in a small measure of its problem of overcrowding, and relieving the taxpayers of the cost of their maintenance. Those youth could hopefully be returned to the society without the stigma of previous criminality.
If marijuana cultivation and possession were to be legalized, the farms would be subject to regulation and taxation. They could be monitored, and could pay licensing fees. Shops selling marijuana would pay taxes on those profits. In California, Canada and the Netherlands and recently closer to home in Jamaica, marijuana has been legalized and is becoming a large revenue earner. What is wrong with Guyana?
ANUG supports the call for legalization of marijuana in Guyana, and will do everything in its power to ensure that this is done.