Proposed amendment to ganja law flexible, creative

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Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo

– says prime minister

A RECENT move by the government to enact legislation which would see persons who are caught with 30 grammes or less of marijuana not doing jail time is a “creative” and “purposive” move which will ensure those at fault, especially young people, endure other forms of punishment rather than imprisonment.

At the same time, Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo said the government is hoping the police take “judicial note” of the move by Cabinet and that the lawmen relax the stringent application of their functions to arrest persons with small quantities of marijuana when the law is enacted.

In the approach towards liberalisation of the law, it would mean that there is already a process that would not see young people being “hounded and charged,” Nagamootoo said of the move.

He said there are other stipulations in the law that would have to be amended as time progresses.

On Wednesday, during a “one-on-one” interview at the Office of the Prime Minister, Nagamootoo also clarified that if the amendment to the existing law is successfully passed through the National Assembly, it does not signify that marijuana possession becomes legal.

He said if one is caught with 30 grammes or less of the substance, he or she is still deemed to be acting against the law but the legislation, if amended, would mean such persons will not be sent to prison.

“One will not be sentenced to mandatory time,” he said, while noting that such persons may be fined or the courts may prescribe community service. To this end, he said the establishment of a Drug Treatment Court, which will address the issue, will examine alternative sentencing.

The prime minister said he recalls leading a government delegation which met with top officials of the judiciary where the issue of overcrowding in the prisons was discussed. He said it was determined that many persons who were in prison, were there for the illegal possession of small quantities of marijuana.

He said it was decided at the time that night courts and temporary magistrates be appointed to address the issue.

Nagamootoo said the issue of young people being sent to prison for possession of small quantities of marijuana is being addressed by the government.

“At the moment, the issue of young people going to jail is a social problem,” he said, adding that they do not belong in jail nor should their future be one that entails being in jail for the related offence.

Members of the Rastafarian community recently lauded the move by the government and Nagamootoo said relaxing the sentencing policy is what that section of the populace has been asking for.

He explained that magistrates have complained that their hands were tied regarding sentencing for persons who were found in possession of utensils used for marijuana usage and for being in possession of small quantities of the drug.