THE Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, S.C., on Wednesday, submitted the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) (Amendment) Bill 2021 to the Clerk of the National Assembly. The bill, which introduces amendments to seven key sections of the principal Act, was submitted for placement on the Parliamentary Order Paper for today’s sitting of the National Assembly. The primary objective of the amendments is the removal of custodial sentences (time served in prison) for the possession of small quantities of marijuana, a promise made by the People’s Progressive Party/Civic in their 2020 elections manifesto.
The proposed amendments introduce mandatory counselling by a certified counsellor specified by the court for anyone convicted for being in possession of cannabis which does not exceed 15 grammes, the period of counselling to be determined by the counsellor after an assessment. For persons convicted for being in possession of a quantity of cannabis which exceeds 15 grammes but does not exceed 30 grammes, the court shall make an order requiring that person to perform community service.
Section five of the principal Act, which pertains to the penalty for trafficking narcotic is also slated to be amended. Section two of the principal Act shifts the burden of proof upon the defendant, once found in possession of more than 15 grammes of cannabis, to prove that he is in possession of the narcotic for a purpose other than the purpose of trafficking. The amendment will see this being changed to 30 grammes. Other sections proposed to be amended are Sections 12, 72 and 73 of the principal Act.
While amendments to the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substance Control Act were promised by the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) Coalition as early as 2015, it never came to fruition. In 2015, former Alliance For Change (AFC) Member of Parliament, Michael Carrington, had tabled a bill in the National Assembly to amend the Act but it was never even debated. In December 2020, members of the APNU+AFC opposition presented copies of their version of the amended bill to Parliament. They cited the inactivity of the National Assembly in 2019 due to the passage of the no-confidence motion on December 21, 2018 as the reason why the bill was never debated. The opposition-sponsored bill is also on the Parliamentary Order Paper for today’s sitting of the National Assembly. The Attorney-General had previously disclosed that it is the government’s view that the removal of custodial sentences for this type of offence will aid in the reduction of the prison population.