Jan 29, 2021 News
– counselling, community service proposed
– re-offending and prison overcrowding addressed
Kaieteur News – A majority vote by the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) government resulted in an Amendment Bill proposed by the Opposition Member, Sherod Duncan, to be thrown out of the National Assembly.
In the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) (Amendment) Bill, the Opposition had anticipations of decriminalizing 15 grams of marijuana to a significant 500 grams, and had also called for the release of those persons currently in prison behind bars for under that “proposed legal amount.”
However, due to several errors in the Bill, which were also in conflict with the current law, the PPP/C government questioned to proposal, and eventually, voted against it. The government did, however, give support towards its own Bill, titled the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) (Amendment) Bill 2020.During his presentation, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, pointed out that the opposition-proposed Bill failed to amend or indicate how it would allow for the usage to be legal. To this, the AG said, “So, you can have it, but you can’t smoke it or inhale it or “vape” it.”
Meanwhile, Education Minister, Priya Manickchand, labelled the Bill as “sanctimonious gangsterism,” as she recalled that the Bill presented by Duncan was identical to one that had been drafted by Attorneys-at-Law, Nigel Hughes, and Mark Waldron. The only difference, the Education Minister stated, was that the Bill proposed by Hughes and Waldron had asked for the removal of jail time for persons found with 200 grams of marijuana while this Bill increases that ceiling to 500 grams.
She added that the Bill was a “lazy attempt at a draft,” and the Opposition made “absolutely no effort made to examine and interrogate the issue in trying to resolve it for Guyanese.”
Meanwhile, the government’s Bill which was passed now goes to the Special Committee for further deliberation and consultation. Notably, the Bill will see persons in possession of 15 grams of cannabis or less sentenced to counselling.
“Under the new subsection (2A) the possession of a quantity of cannabis or any substance held out to be cannabis which does not exceed fifteen grams is punishable by mandatory counselling for a period to be determined by the counsellor,” the bill reads.
Currently, possession of 15 grams or less could attract a trafficking charge with a prison sentence between three to five years, and a fine of no less than $30,000. The Bill makes having up to 15 grams of cannabis an offence of simple possession.
An amount over 15 grams, but no more than 30 grams, will attract community service. This includes employment in a public work under the Extra-Mural Work Act for a maximum of six months.
“Public work is defined by section 2 of the Extra-Mural Work Regulations, Reg. 8 of 1998, to include any work on State or Government land or any property belonging to, or rented or leased to the State or with the permission of a local government authority, on any land or any other property belonging to, or rented or leased to, the local government authority.”
The Bill also increases the quantity of cannabis that would automatically attract a trafficking charge from 15 grams to more than 30 grams.
It also removes the fine and prison term for smoking, inhaling, sniffing, or otherwise using cannabis or for being found in a place used for that purpose, or being the owner, occupier, or concerned in the management of any place used for preparation of cannabis for that purpose.
However, while the clause removes the fine and jail time for smoking cannabis in places where cigarette smoking is also banned, it imposes a $10,000 fine for a first offence and a $20,000 penalty for second and subsequent offences.
The Bill also caters for those instances where an offender may refuse to consent or breach an order of mandatory counselling or community service. The amended Act would grant the court the discretion to order the offender to pay a fine of $250,000 where it sees fit.
These amendments are meant to reduce the burden on the justice system, and also cover issues like recidivism and prison overcrowding. This would not only save the State money, but would also help to keep families together and rebuild communities affected and disadvantaged by the incarceration of persons, especially youth.
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