Bill to remove jail time for small quantities of ‘ganja’ before Cabinet

Bill to remove jail time for small quantities of ‘ganja’ before Cabinet

A draft bill, which seeks to remove custodial sentences (time served in prison) for the possession of small quantities of marijuana, is currently before Cabinet, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, disclosed on Monday.

During an event at the Umana Yana in Kingston, Georgetown, Nandlall reiterated the commitment of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) government to remove the harsh sentences.

He said Cabinet is now deliberating on the quantity of marijuana that will attract alternative sentencing.

“We made a manifesto promise that we will remove custodial sentences from small quantities of marijuana. A bill is currently before cabinet and the issue that is under review is the quantum,” the Attorney General noted.

He explained that Cabinet is also taking into consideration statistics from other Caribbean countries where similar initiatives were implemented.

“We have to be guided by the statistics that have been provided, we are still seeking guidance from similar legislative measures already implemented in the Caribbean. I would not want to preempt Cabinet’s deliberation, but all these factors are currently being taken into account,” the Attorney General posited.

A custodial sentence is judicial sentence that involves imprisonment; these sentences are reserved for offences so serious that neither a fine nor a community sentence can be justified, and are usually handed down for offences ranging from drug trafficking, firearm-related and homicide offences.

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.

Director of Prisons, Gladwin Samuels
Director of Prisons, Gladwin Samuels

The Attorney General said he has already consulted the Director of Prisons, Gladwin Samuels, for information pertaining to the number of inmates incarcerated for possession of marijuana. The information has since been passed to Cabinet and the matter is under review.

Nandlall further elucidated that the removal of custodial sentences for the said offences will not be equivalent to the offences being non-existent.

“It does not mean that it will not constitute an offence; it will still remain a criminal offence but it will not carry custodial sentence as a penalty and that is what I understand we promised in our manifesto,” Nandlall explained.

Meanwhile, the Prison Director, who was also present at the event, explained that there is a common misconception among society that a large section of the prison population is attributed to persons incarcerated for small quantities of marijuana.

“When we look at the quantity of marijuana for which persons are charged, the smallest quantity we had someone in custody for was 4.5 grammes. After that, the next smallest quantity was 27.4 grammes. It therefore means that the belief that there are hundreds of prisoners languishing in prison for possession of five grammes or less marijuana is absolutely a myth,” the Prison Director made clear.

Samuels explained that in collaboration with the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), efforts are being made for persons who were arrested for a “spliff” not to be sent to the prison system, especially in light of the diminished physical capacity and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pro-marijuana activists, such as the Guyana Rastafarian Council, have previously indicated their plans to lobby the government to move to decriminalise marijuana.

In accordance with the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) Act 1998, Section 4 (1), any person who has in his possession any narcotic, shall be liable (a) in respect of any narcotic (to which cannabis is included as per Section 3 of the First Schedule of the Act).

(i) on summary conviction, to a fine of not less than $30,000, together with imprisonment for not less than 3 years nor more than 5 years; or

(ii) on conviction on indictment, to a fine of not less than $30,000 or three times the market value of the narcotic, whichever is the greater, together with imprisonment for not less than five years nor more than ten years.

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