CHAIRMAN of the Alliance for Change (AFC) Raphael Trotman said the Guyana Police Force should go after “the bigger fishes,” those engaged in trafficking of large quantities of marijuana and not the small man, now that the Government is moving to amend the legislation to soften the penalty for possession of small amounts of cannabis.
Speaking at an AFC press conference at the Centre for Change on Thursday, the Chairman said he is pleased that after several months of consideration, Cabinet has approved a Bill intended to amend the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substance Control Act to prevent persons from being incarcerated if found with up to 30 grams of cannabis. The Bill was initially tabled by AFC Member of Parliament Michael Carrington, and on Thursday, he was applauded for his persistence.
Though the bill, when passed into law, will not decriminalise the use of marijuana, Trotman said it will prevent hundreds of persons, particularly young people, from being imprisoned for possession of small quantities of cannabis. He explained that persons found with up to 30 grams of cannabis will either pay a fine or do community service.
Trotman posited, however, that the Police should have a different approach.
“We expect as well that…that the police will adopt a different posture, if they know that people are not going to jail, it takes away, I believe, the ability for them to hold it like a sword of Damocles over young people’s head, threatening them with jail,” Trotman said. Noting that persons have been sentenced to prison for three years for having in their possession four and five grams of cannabis, the Chairman said families are being torn apart due to this reality.
“Though it remains technically an offense, (it is hoped) that posture of the police force would change (and) that they will go after the bigger fish and let people relax and not feel afraid of losing their lives over 4 or 5 grams (of cannabis),” the AFC Chairman posited.
At the time, he was speaking in the presence of the Leader of the AFC and Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan. Ramjattan noted that in recent months approximately 17 persons have been released on patrol after they were found guilty of having small amounts of cannabis in their possession. He noted too that President David Granger has pardoned at least five women who would have committed similar offences.
Over the years, several persons have been placed behind bars for having small amounts of marijuana in their possession. Imprisonment of persons found with small amounts of cannabis, is among contributing factors to the overcrowding of the country’s prisons. Once found in possession of more than five grams of cannabis, a person can be sentenced to three years in jail, the current law states.
According to the proposed bill seen by Guyana Chronicle, Section 4 (A) (i) and Section 4 (B) (ii) of the Narcotic Drug and Psychotropic Substances Control Act 1988 are being amended to remove the requirements for imprisonment for anyone found in possession of cannabis. Section 5 (2) (e), which addresses the issue of quantity, is being amended to increase the quantity of cannabis that attracts jail time.
In the Explanatory Memorandum signed by MP Carrington, it was explained that the bill is in direct response to the experience faced by many young Guyanese who have been incarcerated for small quantities of cannabis resin.
“This experience has further revealed that many of the young persons who have been remanded and incarcerated as a result of being charged with offences which involved relatively small quantities of cannabis or cannabis resin, have been exposed to persons who have been accused of and have been involved in much more serious violent offences. The social intercourse afforded by the incarceration has resulted in regrettable contamination and education of many young persons in criminal behavior and anti-social tendencies,” MP Carrington explained.
He noted that as a result of the current statutory provision, persons found with 15 or more grams of marijuana for personal or medical use, have been jailed for three or more years. “The proposed amendments will remove the mandatory imprisonment of persons who have been accused of having in their possession relatively small amounts of cannabis and cannabis resin. The amendment will also increase the quantity which will constitute an offence of trafficking in cannabis or cannabis resin to one thousand grams,” the Member of Parliament noted.