AFC to push Bill to remove jail time for ganja

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By Bibi Khatoon

After three years of no response from its coalition partner, Alliance For Change (AFC) Member of Parliament, Michael Carrington plans to move ahead to have the mandatory three-year jail sentence for the possession of small amounts of Marijuana eliminated from Guyana’s laws.

The Alliance For Change (AFC) first proposed amendments to the 1988 Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances Act in 2016. However, its coalition partner, A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) asked to “hold off” on the bill.

During an interview with the News Room on Wednesday, Carrington, in whose name the amendments were crafted, said he will be pushing to have the amendments tabled at the next sitting of the National Assembly.

The 1988 Act states that “any person who has in his possession any narcotic, or any substance represented or held out by him to be a narcotic, shall be liable to on summary conviction, to fine not less than $30,000 together with imprisonment for not less than three years nor more than five years.”

He said that in 2016, the Government’s Chief Whip, Amna Ally who is also a member of the leading coalition party – the People’s National Congress Reform (PNC/R) – told him that the President does not think it was the right time for the Bill to be tabled.

After close to three years without any feedback, the AFC Member of Parliament believes that those who agree and disagree will be given the opportunity to express their views during the debate in the House.

“It is time for us to move forward,” Carrington said.

He said Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan was asked to engage APNU on the issue, but there has been no response.

Before the Bill is once again taken to the National Assembly, Carrington is hoping to include recommendations already in the 1988 Act into the proposed amendments.

He pointed to the establishment of rehabilitation centres by the Ministry of Health, the establishment of a rehabilitation fund by the Finance Ministry and the appointment of an Advisory Council for Rehabilitation of Narcotic Addicts as outlined in sections 65 to 72 of the Act.

Carrington strongly believes marijuana should be decriminalized.

Last week, Attorney General, Basil Williams who is also the Chairman of the PNCR was asked about the decriminalization of the substance. In response, he told reporters that he believes the matter should be taken to a referendum.

But Carrington blasted the Attorney General as he noted that it should have been the AG to make a move in the National Assembly to have the laws amended given it was one of the Government’s campaign promise.

In the lead up to the 2015 General and Regional Elections, the coalition promised to review the decriminalization of Marijuana.

The AFC on Tuesday evening renewed its call for the mandatory jail sentence for small amounts of marijuana to be removed from Guyana’s laws.

The call came after a 27-year-old father and poultry farmer, Carl Mangal was sentenced to three years in prison for the possession of eight grams of marijuana on Monday. The AFC said custodial sentences serve, in large measure, to criminalize young people.

However, Prime Minister, Moses Nagamootoo, also a member of the AFC, told the media Wednesday that there must be wide consultation before the law is amended.

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