Jagdeo supports decriminalisation of marijuana

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Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo Thursday promised to vote in favour of legislative reform that decriminalises the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The other 32 parliamentarians representing the opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) would be allowed to make a conscience vote on the issue, Jagdeo said at a news conference.

He further expressed concerns that the Government’s call for “public consultations” on the issue is just a delaying tactic.

The Alliance For Change (AFC) arm of the coalition administration recently renewed its commitment to push for reforms to the existing 1988 Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances Act.

The issue of decriminalisastion of marijuana was reignited after 27-year-old poultry farmer, Carl Mangal was sentenced to three years imprisonment for the possession of eight grams of marijuana earlier this week.

The Opposition Leader contended that these types of sentencing are not compassionate and that the law needs to be changed.

“I will vote in favour of decriminalisation…I am sure every family would want that,” Jagdeo expressed.

He explained that no family, regardless of religion, would want a loved one given such lengthy jail time for such a minor offence.

However, the PPP General Secretary noted that persons charged with possession of small quantities should not get off “scotch free” but should face alternative sentencing like community service or rehabilitation.

AFC Parliamentarian Michael Carrington said he will take steps to have amendments to the legislation tabled at the next sitting of the National Assembly.

Carrington along with Attorney Nigel Hughes had crafted a draft Amendment Bill but the Government Chief Whip Amna Ally advised against taking it to the National Assembly because President David Granger would not have supported the decision.

But after waiting for three years for a response from the A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), Carrington has decided to move ahead without the support from its coalition partners.

The AFC is banking on opposition support to have the amendment passed. But Jagdeo said the PPP will not take a collective position on the issue; parliamentarians will be free to vote as they desire.

The existing Narcotic Drugs Act of 1988, which criminalizes marijuana use, does not have discretion when dealing with matters above a certain level. It mandates a three-year jail sentence for persons caught with the substance.

In addition to Carl Mangal, 25-year-old miner, Ravi Mohan is also facing three years imprisonment for the possession of 25 grams of cannabis.

Attorney Hughes, former AFC Chairman, has decided to represent Mangal pro-bono and he has since appealed the court’s ruling.

State Minister Joseph Harmon, when asked to comment on the matter at his post-cabinet press briefing, explained that “the law is the law” and posited that the magistrates handing down the sentencing have to abide by it.

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