With just two persons in prison for the possession of under 30 grams of marijuana, the government is likely to remove jail time for possession of more than that amount of the illegal substance.
Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall on Monday disclosed that the bill is before Cabinet which is currently discussing the amount of marijuana a person can legally have in their possession.
“We made a manifesto promise that we will remove custodial sentence from small quantity of marijuana. A bill is currently before Cabinet and the issue that is under review is the quantum,” Nandlall told the media during a press conference about the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) funded justice reform project which seeks to reduce overcrowding in the prisons.
Nandlall said the government is committed to removing the mandated jail sentence for the possession of small quantities but the act “will still remain a criminal offence.” This may be punishable by other means.
The former government, in July 2019, approved a proposal to remove custodial sentences for persons found to be in possession of 30 grams or less but this was never changed in law.
On Monday, Director of Prisons, Gladwin Samuels disclosed that of the 1,884 persons in the prison population, only two are there for less than 30 grams of the substance.
“The belief that there are hundreds of prisoners languishing in prison for possession of five grams or less marijuana is absolutely a myth,” the Prison Director said.
There is a mandated three-year jail sentence for possession of the substance.
Samuels said the Chambers of the Director of Public Prosecutions has been pushing for persons who are “arrested by the police for spliff and so forth not to be sent to the prison system.”
The Rastafarian Community and others have continually called for the decriminalization of marijuana. They have requested to be given the freedom to walk around with 53 grams.
The CARICOM Regional Commission on Marijuana visited Guyana in 2017 where local groups argued that incarcerating persons for possession of the substance destroys many lives.
A former University of Guyana Lecturer, Jermaine Grant pointed out that it is not the substance which destroys lives but the “criminalization of the substance.”
Grant compared the mandated three-year prison sentence for possession of cannabis to other offences, including robbery, which are sometimes given a shorter jail sentence in Guyana. As such, he highlighted that it is the criminalization of marijuana which causes the lives of young people to be destroyed.