Dec 07, 2015 News
Attorneys Nigel Hughes and Mark Waldron have completed a draft new legislation to relax marijuana convictions.
This comes in the wake of the imprisonment of former national footballer turned coach, Vibert Butts by a city Magistrate for the possession of marijuana.
Butts has since appealed the conviction and sentence and is expected to be released on $350,000, pending the outcome of the appeal.
The legislation, which aims to revise stipulations of the denial of bail, the mandatory minimum serving time and the violation of the separation of power, is likely to be tabled in the National Assembly on December 17.
The formation of this piece of bill kicked off following the conviction of Butts for possession of 46 grammes of cannabis two weeks ago. He was found guilty when he appeared at the Georgetown Magistrates’ Courts.
An unrepresented Butts, had initially pleaded not guilty to the charge, but later changed his plea and begged for leniency, insisting that he only used marijuana for medicinal purposes. Nevertheless, he was sentenced to three years imprisonment, along with a one-year prison term for another offence.
He was granted bail at $350,000 in the High Court on Friday by Chief Justice (Ag) Ian Chang after his lawyers Hughes and Waldron filed the appeal.
Insisting that the bail was “ridiculously” high, Hughes stated that they have moved ahead to complete the legislation that will seek to protect persons like Butts from stringent unrealistic narcotics laws.
Hughes argued that the current marijuana prison term is impractical and inhumane since the number of persons charged with the offence does not have access to seek justice because of their socio-economic status.
“We need to get rid of that awful legislation that penalises people for possession of small amounts of marijuana,” he said, stressing that too many good citizens are being thrown in prison for possession of marijuana and as such are criminalised.
He indicated that many of the people tossed in prison for this offence are from the poorer class of society. He insisted that the severity of the penalty challenged him and his colleague Waldron and some 30 prisoners charged with the same offence to form this legislation.
The law indicates that anyone found in possession of marijuana is liable to a fine of $10,000 or three times the monetary value of the drug and five years in jail.
Benschop also raised his voice against the current regulation, stating that they are approaching the issue in an aggressive manner. “The law has to change,” he stated.
He charged that Guyana was living in the dark ages while other countries were moving forward and not criminalising the possession of marijuana in small quantity. “It’s just wrong…we can’t be incarcerating people for small amount of marijuana,” he insisted, adding, “Instead of dumping them in prison, they should be warned or placed on probation…especially in cases of first time offenders.”
He argued that there were doctors, businessmen and politicians who smoke or have smoked marijuana and they were not criminalised for it so why should the poorer class of society suffer the injustice and be thrown into prison and stigmatised? “The problem is that when these persons come out…and most of them are young boys… they come out as hardcore criminals,” he said, adding that it places a burden on the government, the taxpayers and the prison system.
Public Health Minister George Norton yesterday stated that in-depth consideration must be given to the bill along with widespread consultation. However, he stated that the legalisation of marijuana smoking would fly in the face of the anti-tobacco legislation, which will be tabled next year.
He said the Bill, as it stands now, can’t be passed at the level of the minority, but only through widespread consent, backed by scientific evidence for and against it.
However, Benschop indicated that the piece of legislation does not accept marijuana consumption as right but believes that the mandatory prison time should be revised. “We are not saying that marijuana should be legalised because if someone is caught with a trunk full of marijuana then they should face the consequences. We are more concerned with the human rights aspect of the situation,” he stated.
He said once the Bill is passed, it was up to the legislators to decide what amount of marijuana would be permissible. He also stated that Parliament will decide if consultation would be needed.
In the past, many international bodies have called on their respective governments to relax their narcotics laws.
Meanwhile, Butts is one of many persons charged and sentenced to prison for possession of small amounts of marijuana. Many of the persons charged are youths.
Butts is expected to be released from prison by 11am today. The bulk of money secured for his release came from his family and the Benschop Foundation.
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