May 24, 2018 News
-says languishing bill can be supported by AFC, Opposition
The pressure to change the law that allows for automatic jail sentence for certain quantities of marijuana is gaining traction.
This week, the case of a 27-year-old farmer, Carl Mangal, who was jailed for three years by a city magistrate for just over 8 grams of marijuana, elicited significant anger in society, with Government urged to address the matter.
The sentencing has brought the spotlight sharply back on a contentious issue, with deep division as to whether marijuana should be legalized and to what extent.
Yesterday, after reportedly being asked by social activist Mark Benschop, prominent attorney-at-law, Nigel Hughes, decided to take the case pro bono (without charge), filing an appeal against the conviction and sentence of Mangal.
In a statement after the filing, Hughes said that there has been considerable, justified alarm at the imprisonment of this and other citizens for a lengthy periods of time for user quantities of cannabis. He noted that it was only two years ago when another citizen was imprisoned for possession of user quantities and smoking utensils.
A draft Bill was presented by Michael Carrington, a Member of Parliament for the Alliance For Change, for consideration in the National Assembly.
According to Hughes, in an effort to seek national consensus and across-the-floor support for the Bill, the Leader of the Opposition, Bharrat Jagdeo, was approached to support the draft.
“He agreed to permit a conscience vote on the Bill, as he expressed the view that sentencing was harsh. The Leader of the Opposition publicly articulated this position.”
Hughes pointed to Tuesday’s statement of the AFC, the smaller of two factions that make up the governing coalition, which called for no jail for small ganja possession cases.
“Now that the AFC have said that their party supports the amendment to the Act, perhaps the AFC along with those members of the Opposition who are sufficiently aggrieved by this odious piece of legislation, should vote to amend the Act, instead of waiting on further travesties of justice to occur,” Hughes urged.
He believes that the AFC coupled with a plurality of members of the Opposition can amend the Narcotics Act.
Yesterday afternoon, the lawyer met with the parents and other relatives of the convicted man to discuss the way forward. Present was Mangal’s baby and wife, his mother and father and another relative.
Meanwhile, the case, according to Benschop, is not just about Mangal, but for hundreds of others in his situation.
“Hence, it’s time for the government and opposition to vote on the Marijuana Bill that’s before Parliament since 2016,” Benschop said in a Facebook post.
On Tuesday, AFC in a statement said it is not objecting to the removal of custodial sentences for possession of small quantities of marijuana.
“The Alliance For Change expresses its outrage and deep concern following the sentencing, to three years’ incarceration, of 27-year-old father and poultry farmer, Carl Mangal, for the possession of eight grams of marijuana.”
The AFC said it recognizes that the magistrates are constrained by the law with regard to the issue of custodial sentencing for possession of small quantities of marijuana.
“The party renews its call to all legislators to move with alacrity in upgrading the laws of Guyana to ensure that custodial sentences for small quantities of marijuana are removed from the books in their entirety.”
AFC said that custodial sentences serve, in large measure, to criminalize young people, particularly young men who have been caught with small quantities of marijuana – an offence which is a mere error in judgment and not representative of criminal behaviour.
AFC reminded that MP Carrington, since 2015, brought a Bill to the National Assembly for debate, but it has since been languishing on the Order Paper, being deferred time and time again.
“The time to act is now. We must no longer sit idly by and allow our young men and women to be sentenced to several years of jail time alongside hardened criminals, murderers and rapists. We will not be found complicit in destroying the lives of our young people and wounding our society rather than acting to heal it.”
The AFC also announces that it will commence plans to host, in the near future, a national symposium on the issue, at which all stakeholders and sectors of society will be invited to deliberate and exchange views.”
On Monday, a city magistrate’s court erupted after the poultry farmer was jailed for three years.
Mangal appeared on Monday before Principal Magistrate Judy Latchman accused of having 8.4 grams of marijuana in his possession.
Mangal of Lot 2 Princes Street, Lodge, Georgetown, admitted to the charge, which alleged that on May 18 at Princes Street, he had the illicit substance in his possession.
In the courtroom, the Magistrate told upset family members of Mangal that her hands are tied.
“I gave him the least sentence which is three years. He could have been sentenced to between three and five years. If you feel bad about this, the most you can do at this point of time is appeal the sentence, that’s the option that is open to you. I can’t do anything.”
Yesterday, Government officials said that the idea will be not to decriminalize marijuana entirely, but to reform parts of the laws to reduce sentencing.
Assessments of the prison situation over time have found that a significant number of inmates were for drug-related offences, including persons being caught with small amounts.
Following the horrific Camp Street fire, moves have been made to reduce the prison population by releasing inmates whose sentences are nearing conclusion and reducing time behind bars.
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