‘The law is the law’ – Gov’t resists pressure for marijuana decriminalisation

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The Government on Thursday resisted pressure on legislative reform that seeks to decriminalise marijuana use.

State Minister Joseph Harmon told reporters at the Post Cabinet briefing that the Government’s position is that “the law is the law.”

He gave no indication that the Government was willing to move towards any decriminalization of the herb but indicated that any move in that direction would have to take on broad consultation.

Harmon backed up sentiments expressed by Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo on Wednesday where he said that there is consensus within the Government to undergo law reform that will give Magistrates discretion when sentencing.

Joseph Harmon, Minister of State

The existing Narcotic Drugs Act of 1988, which criminalizes marijuana use, do not have discretion when dealing with matters above a certain level. It mandates a 3 – year jail sentence for persons caught with the substance.

Harmon said Magistrates have to stick to the law, in response to the recent sentencing of a 27-year-old father to three years in prison after he was found with eight grams of marijuana.

The sentencing has provoked outrage in sections of society, prompting refreshed calls for decriminalization.

“The Magistrates cannot make the law, they have to apply it… if it needs to change the legislative branch will deal with that,” Harmon said.

He said there is currently a Motion before the National Assembly which speaks to the issue of sentencing and marijuana decriminalization.

According to Harmon, when that Motion comes up for debate it will be addressed by both sides of the House. But the Motion has been sitting there for over two years having been tabled by AFC Parliamentarian, Michael Carrington.

He reiterated that decriminalization of marijuana will require larger consultation of the population after which the Government will take a position.

The Rastafarian community in Guyana continues to lobby for the decriminalization of the herb even as other Caricom countries have taken a step in that direction.

The Government had promised to consult on the issue during the run-up to the 2015 elections.

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